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Albanian poll-monitoring team will be smaller due to virus

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — International observers monitoring Albania’s April 25 parliamentary elections launched their mission Friday, saying they will deploy a smaller team due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Urszula Gacek, head of the international mission, said 13 core-team experts have started the monitoring process but the number of short-term observes would be adapted in line with pandemic restrictions.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been monitoring Albania’s elections since 1996.

Gacek, head of the mission of OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said next month’s vote will be “unique” due to the pandemic and also because of recent electoral law reform. The legislative changes, designed to prevent vote manipulation, were made last year based on ODIHR recommendations.

Some 275 international short-term observers had initially been due for the election. It’s unclear how many will eventually come, due to pandemic travel restrictions, though Gacek said the number would be about 200, or fewer.

“I’m still confident that at the end of the day we will be able to provide you with a credible, accurate and fair assessment of what happens on the 25th of April here in Albania,” Gacek told an online news conference.

While Albanian authorities have not yet specified what public health measures will be in place for the voting, campaign meetings are currently restricted to no more than 10 people. Several breaches of that limit have already been recorded, even though campaigning has not yet officially started.

Albania’s parliament is now dominated by the left-wing Socialist Party. The main center-right opposition has been boycotting parliament sessions for the past two years, maintaining that the last parliamentary election in 2017 was marred by irregularities.

Post-communist Albania’s elections have always been strongly contested and frequently marred by irregularities, including alleged vote-buying and manipulation of ballot counts.

Some 3.6 million eligible voters will elect 140 lawmakers on April 25.

By LLAZAR SEMINI
Associated Press

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