Hearing :: Democracy in Albania: the Pace of Progress

Print

Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe:  
U.S. Helsinki Commission

Democracy in Albania: The Pace of Progress

Commission Members Present:
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD);
Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY);  
Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL)

Witnesses:
Philip T. Reeker, 
Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs,
U.S. Department of State

Elez Biberaj, 
Director, Eurasia Division, 
Voice of America

Besa Shahini, 
Senior Analyst, 
European Stability Initiative

Gilbert Galanxhi, 
Ambassador of Albania to the United States of America

The Hearing Was Held at 3:03 p.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center, Senate Room 
210-212, Washington, D.C., Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) Presiding 

Monday, May 6, 2013
 
CARDIN:  Well, good afternoon.  Let me welcome you all to the Helsinki 
Commission hearing that we’re holding today in regards to “Democracy in 
Albania:  the Pace of Progress.”  

I want to thank all the witnesses for being here today.  I particularly want to 
acknowledge and thank the ambassador from Albania to the United States for his 
personal attention and presence.  We very much appreciate that and we 
appreciate all the witnesses that are here.  

Shortly, I’m going to be turning the gavel over to Congressman Robert Aderholt. 
 I think most of you know that Congressman Aderholt is not only a member of the 
Commission – a very active member of the Commission – but is a Vice President 
of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, a very active Member of Congress 
internationally and U.S. participant within the Helsinki process.  

It is also interesting to point out that this is our second hearing in which we 
have focused on a close friend of the United States, a member of the OSCE, and 
a NATO ally.  We had our last hearing on Hungary, and this hearing we are 
having on Albania.  And it is, I think, a testimony to the fact that countries 
that, with our allies and our friends, we can have a very open and frank 
discussion about the progress being made in elections, in building democratic 
institutions, in dealing with the commitments of the OSCE.  

Albania had a very difficult past, as we know, a very oppressive regime under 
former communist domination.  And its people look forward to the type of 
democratic institutions that the fall of the Iron Curtain brought.  And the 
pace in Albania for change was very rapid in the beginning, which is a 
testimony to the leadership of their country.  We saw significant changes take 
place.

But in recent years, the progress has certainly been at a different pace.  And 
in some instances we believe that opportunities for progress have been lost.  
We’re particularly concerned about free and fair elections.  We’re concerned 
about the openness of its society to dissent.  And we look forward to that 
discussion today as to how we, as friends and allies, can work together to live 
up to the commitments of the OSCE.

This Commission is pretty bold in its putting a spotlight on countries that we 
think can do better.  We’ll do that with the United States of America, when we 
think that it is not performing as it should under the OSCE principles.  Having 
said that, I want to draw a sharp contrast between the countries that we’ve 
concentrated, our allies, and the progress they need to continue to make, and 
those countries that have yet to make the type of progress in living up to the 
OSCE commitments that we are going to continue to call out for not having taken 
any significant steps.  

That’s certainly not the case with the United States, as I was a little bit 
critical, or with Albania or with Hungary.  But we do hope to be able to have 
the type of discussion where we can bring out our concerns and look for 
positive ways to advance the basic principles within OSCE in a fair manner.  I 
believe the people of Albania deserve nothing less.  They deserve free and fair 
elections, they deserve the promises of democracy in the full sense of those 
commitments.

I will ask consent that my entire statement be made part of the record.  And as 
I indicated earlier, I’m going to turn the gavel over to the Congressman 
Aderholt who will introduce – make his opening statements and introduce the 
witnesses.  And I apologize; I will be in and out during the course of today’s 
hearings. But again, I thank the witnesses for their presence here today.

ADERHOLT:  Thank you, Senator Cardin.  And it’s good to be here today for this 
hearing and I welcome the opportunity for us to focus on Albania, and 
especially as they get ready to hold their parliamentary elections.  

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Balkan region many times.  In particular 
I’ve had an opportunity to visit Albania.  The country has tremendous 
potential.  The progress they have made as they led up to their NATO membership 
is an indication of that potential.  And as Senator Cardin mentioned, even the 
progress they made right after the country became independent is very 
impressive as well.

At various levels, both in the government and in the opposition, there are 
talented minds in Albania who do want the country to continue to move forward 
as it has in the past.  They often share our frustration there is not greater 
progress today, particularly as it relates to EU membership.  They want to see 
Albania stable, integrated and prosperous.  

I also want to mention that, as the Chairman mentioned, I serve as Vice 
President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, so I work very closely with a lot 
of the other parliamentarians that focus on this region of the world, one being 
a colleague to both Senator Cardin and myself,  also a friend, Mr. Roberto 
Battelli from Slovenia.  He will lead the OSCE election observation efforts in 
Albania in June.

The OSCE – both the Assembly and Office of the Democratic Institution in Human 
Rights - will take this election very seriously.  And I hope they can say when 
the process is over that the elections were conducted in a free and a very fair 
manner.  Our job today is to encourage that outcome, and I look forward to the 
testimony of all the witnesses that we will have today.

On the first panel is Phil Reeker.  He has a distinguished career as a Foreign 
Service Officer and is the current Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with a 
portfolio for the Western Balkans.  We welcome you here today; we thank you for 
your time to come before the Commission, and we will express our appreciations 
for the State Department’s collaboration with the Commission in focusing on 
some of our friends and allies in Europe.

It is admittedly easier for parliamentarians to call for enlightened and public 
foreign policy than it is for diplomats who must develop and implement such a 
policy with the additional work and challenge it entails.  I hope, Ambassador 
Reeker, that as we focus on Albania today, we’ll be able to rely on your 
broader experience as you have served in the region.  And what we’ll do is go 
ahead and get started, and then as the other Members come by, we will introduce 
them at that time.

Ambassador Reeker.

REEKER:  Well, thank you very much, Congressman.  It’s a pleasure to be here.  
Senator Cardin, Mr. Chairman, I think the last time I was able to sit in this 
forum with you was for my confirmation hearing as U.S. Abassador to the 
Republic of Macedonia.  That seemed to be a successful endeavor, and I was 
delighted that we were able to host Congressman Aderholt in Macedonia during my 
time there.

I just want to quickly introduce my colleague, who is in charge of the Albania 
desk at the State Department, Mr. Chris Carter, also a career Foreign Service 
Officer from the fine state of Oregon.

CARDIN:  Welcome.  Glad to have you here.

REEKER:  Thank you very much for the invitation to speak before the Helsinki 
Commission.  We in the State Department have an extremely good rapport with the 
Commission.  We value the work that you do, and I must say personally, from my 
experience and work in the Balkans – particularly over the past year and a half 
in this position, I think the Commission has played a significant role in 
fostering stability and democracy throughout the region for more than two 
decades now, and I appreciate very much your continued interest in the region.  
With all the other things that are going on in the world, it’s important that 
we remember this is an area where the United States has contributed significant 
resources and continues to be extremely engaged.  So I welcome the opportunity 
to discuss the pace of democratic progress in Albania.

I want to begin the testimony today with an overview of our policy toward 
Albania, review the pace of Albania’s democratic progress, and finally, 
identify some of the challenges that we believe still remain.  The United 
States and Albania share a strong, vibrant and enduring relationship – a 
friendship, as you’ve described it.  The United States has long supported 
Albania’s independence and its democracy.  I am recalling that Albania first 
became independent from the then Ottoman Empire on November 8th, 1912.

After the First World War, our president, President Woodrow Wilson, defended 
Albania’s statehood.  And during the dark days after the second world war of 
the communist era, the Voice of America, whose Albanian service celebrates its 
70th anniversary at an event tomorrow, brought news and inspiration to a very, 
very isolated nation.

After the fall of the harsh communist regime in 1991, the United States, under 
President George H.W. Bush, quickly re-established relations with Albania.  We 
took back the embassy building that we had had there prior to the war.  Later, 
President Clinton established an enterprise fund to bring U.S. investment to 
Albania, supported Albania’s democratic elections and worked with Albania and 
our NATO allies to protect Kosovo and to restore stability to the region.  We 
do remember how Albania took in tens of thousands – hundreds of thousands of 
refugees from Kosovo and during those dark days in 1998, ’99.

President George W. Bush became the first sitting American president to visit 
Albania, and President Obama welcomed Albania, along with Croatia, as our 
newest NATO allies in 2009.  And Secretary Clinton helped Albania celebrate the 
100th anniversary of independence just last fall at the end of October of 2012 
when she visited Albania as part of a Balkans tour.  

Internationally, I think it’s important to note that from an era of extreme 
isolation, Albania has actually been a responsible and steadfast actor, 
committing troops and resources in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Kosovo and in Iraq.  
As a NATO member, Albania has supported robustly NATO-led operations, most 
prominently in Afghanistan, where over 200 Albanians serve proudly right now 
alongside U.S. and other allied troops.

So the United States deeply values Albania’s many contributions to our mutual 
goals.  The United States is partnering with Albania and with our European 
friends as Albania works to achieve its European Union aspirations, which is, 
of course, one of our core policy goals in the Western Balkans and toward 
Albania specifically.  Like the bipartisan nature of this commission, this 
policy has been a clear policy of both Democratic and Republican 
administrations for over 20 years.  Now, since 1991, Albania has made 
significant progress in its democratic development, and the United States has 
partnered with and supported Albania’s efforts to shore up its democratic 
institutions, improve rule of law and increase living standards for all the 
people of Albania and to maintain friendly and mutually productive relations 
with its neighbors.

The United States has also supported efforts to develop trade and investment 
opportunities in Albania. As you mentioned, Congressman, there are great 
opportunities, we believe, there.  And we’ve cooperated on regional law 
enforcement, regional economic and regional environmental issues.

Albania’s membership in NATO is enormously important for consolidating peace 
and security in Albania itself and in the broader region.  But in the 21st 
century and beyond, I think it’s important to remember that economic statecraft 
is of increasing importance.  The prospect of integration with the European 
Union provides Albania with strong incentives for continued Democratic, 
economic and social reform, and it represents the best prospect for Albania’s 
long-term economic and democratic stability.  Albania, like other countries 
aspiring to join the EU, knows that EU integration is its best chance to secure 
prosperity for its people.  Croatia, as an example, a strong supporter and 
friend of Albania as well, will be the next country from the region to join the 
European Union on July 1st this year.

Now, as Albania looks to its European future, we and our European partners are 
hopeful that Albania will take the necessary steps to solidify its democratic 
credentials and give it the best opportunity to gain EU candidate status as 
soon as possible.  Then-Secretary Clinton reiterated this in her historic 
address to the Albanian parliament last fall in Toronto.  Secretary Clinton 
said, and I quote, “Albania and the Albanian people deserve a place in the 
European family of nations.  That is not only good for you, it will make this 
continent more peaceful and secure.”

Today, Albania’s political leaders from all political parties – and there are 
many of them – and indeed, all of Albania’s people have some hard decisions to 
make about their future.  Despite some progress on the EU reform agenda, the 
European Commission did not recommend candidate status in 2012.  The European 
Commission’s progress noted that while Albania had made great strides towards 
fulfilling the so-called Copenhagen political criteria for membership, Albania 
needed further to intensify efforts to reform the judiciary, to strengthen the 
independence of judicial institutions, efficiency and accountability.  The 
commission also noted that Albania needed to demonstrate a track record of 
reforms in the fight against organized crime and corruption and in its 
protection of the rights of minority communities.

Further, the European Commission report highlighted the need for Albania’s 
parliamentarians to pass remaining reform legislation in the areas of public 
administration, judicial reform and parliamentary rules and procedures.  
Finally, as you noted, Congressman, elections remain an area of concern in 
Albania’s democratic progress.  The European Commission report stated that the 
successful conduct of parliamentary elections in 2013 to be held on June 23rd 
will be a crucial test of the country’s democratic institution and Albania’s 
readiness for EU candidacy status.  We, the United States, the State Department 
very much share the commission’s concerns.

The 2009 OSCE/ODIHR and Parliamentary Assembly election observation mission 
noted that while the election then met most OSCE commitments, it did not attain 
the highest standards for democratic elections.  This has been a challenge for 
Albania.  The mission then cited procedural violations, administrative problems 
with the vote count, biased media coverage and a highly toxic political 
environment.  The conduct of the May 2011 nationwide elections for mayors and 
city councils fared mildly better according to OSCE/ODIHR’s observation mission 
final report, but the highly polarized political environment was cited as 
problematic, as was the central election commission’s decision to intervene in 
Tirana’s mayoral contest.

This decision undermined the independence of the institution, the CEC, and 
undermined confidence in the election results.  This is behind us, but we must 
keep it in mind as we look toward the upcoming parliamentary elections.  What 
are the lessons learned?  The United States has been clear that to meet 
international standards, the independence of Albania’s institutions must be 
respected.  The political discourse must remain constructive and civil, and the 
Albanian people must have confidence in both the process and the results of the 
elections.  American personnel will join our colleagues from OSCE’s ODHIR and 
work with their Parliamentary Assembly counterparts to ensure that the 
international community watches the conduct of the elections very carefully.

We understand that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will deploy its own mission, 
and we welcome that.

The United States has worked for many years to engage with civil society in 
Albania, and these efforts continue through the U.S. embassy’s programs under 
current ambassador Alex Arvizu.  Through voter outreach and education programs, 
we are encouraging open discussions on important issues that matter to Albanian 
citizens beyond mere personal politics.

We’re supporting active participation in the electoral process and 
observational reporting on the electoral process itself.  Yet due in part to 
linger effects of the harsh communist regime, civic participation remains the 
weakest aspect in the electoral process.  Parties must more seriously engage 
civil society and reflect their recommendations into their party platforms.  In 
the United States, politicians pay attention to public opinion because citizens 
make their opinions known through their votes.  And let me just take this 
moment to say hello to Congressman Engel, also a good friend of Albania and 
these issues, with whom we’ve spoken many times on these issues.

The United States is particularly concerned with the independence of the 
central election commission. The CEC has the primary responsibility to 
administer elections in a free and impartial fashion in accordance with 
Albania’s electoral code and the rule of law.  To do so, the CEC must be free 
from interference by any individual, any political party, any institution, 
including the parliament. With respect to the composition of the CEC, the 
members of the CEC who were selected and appointed on the basis of interparty 
consensus and in accordance with the electoral code should be apolitical.

Once appointed, CEC members have pledged and are obligated to discharge 
impartially their duties to realize free, fair and democratic elections in 
Albania.  The United States has stressed the need for all parties to strengthen 
lost trust in the main institution responsible for the conduct of elections in 
Albania.  This includes adhering to a timeline established by the electoral 
code and conducting the elections on June 23rd – I believe that’s just about 45 
days from now.

To do this, Albania’s political party leaders must work together, they must 
compromise – a word not always found in dictionaries in the Balkans – and find 
a solution that allows the CEC to carry out its mandate to administer 
elections.  We have confidence that the leaders can do this.  Leaders of all 
major political parties have expressed their desire for elections to take place 
on June 23rd,  However, the CEC does not currently have enough members to 
administer elections effectively.  It’s a question of credibility, and we would 
like to see the CEC as fully constituted as possible, and we urge Albania’s 
leaders not to waste time.  The United States, together with our European 
partners, have stressed that democracy is not just who wins and who loses a 
single election.  The democratic process matters too.

It matters how the political parties run their campaign.  It matters how the 
CEC interprets Albania’s electoral code, conducts the elections and manages 
disputes, how the votes are tabulated, how disputes are resolved and how the 
public and the political parties respond to the final tally.  The conduct of 
these elections on June 23rd will be an important indicator of Albania’s 
democratic maturity, and it will send a clear signal whether Albania is ready 
for European Union candidacy status.  It will also have an impact on our 
bilateral relationship with Albania.

In spite of our concerns, let me say in closing that the United States remains 
committed to Albania’s future.  We remain committed to our friends, the people 
of Albania – all the people of Albania, and we extend the hand of support.  
Beyond elections, we will remain engaged on the long-term goals I cited 
earlier: to help Albania build and refine democratic institutions, respect the 
rule of law, fight crime and corruption and develop a market economy to bring 
prosperity to the Albanian people.

Let me close there.  Thank you again for granting me this opportunity to speak 
before the Helsinki Commission.  Thank you very much for the work that you do, 
and I look forward to your questions.  Thank you.

ADERHOLT:  Thank you, Ambassador.  At this time, as mentioned, we have been 
joined by the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, 
who, as you mentioned, has been someone who has spent a lot of time in Albania 
and the Balkans region, and we’re honored that he joined us today, and so we 
wanted to recognize him for any opening remarks.

ENGEL:  Thank you very much, Congressman Aderholt, and thank you for your 
working closely with me on the Albanian Issue Caucus.  I very much appreciate 
it, and I want to thank Ambassador Reeker, with whom I have worked with for 
many, many years.  He does such an outstanding job for our country.  And your 
testimony, I think, was right on the money, so to speak.  I think you really 
hit the issues.

This hearing is obviously timely, because it becomes just before, as you said, 
Ambassador, the Albanian elections.  And I agree with you, it’s crucial not in 
the context of which candidate will be elected as it is up to the Albanian 
people to decide, but crucial in terms of how the election will be conducted.

And today, like you, I urge all the political parties to fulfill the 
commitments Albania has made to the OSCE of elections and the campaigns leading 
up to them.  The election must be judged by the OSCE as free and fair, and it 
will not only validate the results to the Albanian electorate and the 
international community, but it will also mandate that all political parties 
accept the final election results and take their seats in parliament.  It 
hasn’t always happened, unfortunately.

As the co-chairman of the Albanian Issues Caucus – and my co-chairman is 
sitting to my right – which I founded 24 years ago, I have been honored to be 
part of the effort to advance the democratic development of Albania and to 
preserve the good relations between Albanian Americans and their ancestral 
homelands.  America has no better friends than Albanians, regardless of where 
they live in the Balkans.  They have always stood by the United States, and we 
have always stood by them.

The citizens of Albanian are proudly entering the second century of their 
independence.  It began on the 28th of November in 1912, when they broke free 
from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, despite nearly half a century of draconian 
isolation after World War II under an authoritarian communist regime that even 
perceived the Soviet and Chinese communist models as too open.  The people of 
Albania never lost their belief in the European identity and in America as 
their friend.

I’d like to take just a minute or two to discuss Albania’s Euro-Atlantic 
aspirations.  In the last two decades, Albania has made extraordinary progress 
toward meeting the standards and norms of the value-based Euro-Atlantic 
community.  They obtained full membership in the North Atlantic Treaty 
Organization on April 2, 2009 – I was very, very happy about that – and 
Schengen visa liberalization on December 15th, 2010.  What is left now is for 
Albania to capitalize on the promise of the European Union Thessaloniki 
Declaration of 2003, that the countries of the Western Balkans, including 
Albania, are eligible for accession to the EU.  To do so, however, Albania must 
fulfill the requirements for membership.  Croatia’s July entry this year into 
the EU validates it, and if a Balkan country meets the requirements, the door 
to the European Union is open.  And I hope that Albania would get into the 
European Union as soon as possible.  
A free and fair Albanian election in June will go a long way towards propelling 
Brussels to extend to Albania in 2013 EU candidate status – the EU’s waiting 
room for membership.  This dramatic step would signal to Albanians that their 
living within the borders of the European Union by 2020 is a realistic 
aspiration and the opportunity cannot to be missed.  Last month’s agreement 
between Kosovo and Serbia demonstrated the role of political courage on the 
part of elected officials in ensuring a better life and future for their 
people.  It is only because of Prime Minister Thaçi’s willingness to make hard 
decisions and Prime Minister Dacic’s willingness to embrace a forward-leaning 
vision, the prospects for peace, security and prosperity within the borders of 
the EU is something that the citizens of these two countries can hopefully now 
count on.
The same opportunity lies in front of the political leaders of Albania, be they 
in or out of government.  Will they exercise the political courage to do what 
is right for their country’s future and for the people they aspire to lead the 
EU?  Politicians, government officials and Central Election Commission ,embers 
at all levels, in Albania, are being asked on this June election to do no more 
but no less than what is expected of their counterparts in elections with any 
of the countries of the Euro-Atlantic community.  The people of Albania have 
the right to have a free and fair election as defined by Albanians and OSCE 
norms and thus be assured that it is their votes that elect their leaders.
The people of Albania also have the right for the election to be conducted in a 
matter that affirms that Albania belongs in the European Union.  Anything less 
would be a disservice to the remarkable accomplishments of the Albanian people 
into the potential their future should hold.  And there have been marvelous 
accomplishments as a new NATO member, and Albania has improved its lots for its 
people, and it’s great to see it.  And the United States is a very, very 
willing partner with the Albanian people.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to offer my thoughts on this 
matter, and I now look forward to continue to read testimony.
And again, Ambassador Reeker, thank you for all you’ve done through the years, 
your hard work.  You’ve always been fair, you’ve always worked hard and you’ve 
always been saying the correct things, as was demonstrated by your testimony 
here this afternoon.  So I thank you very much.
Thank you, Congressman, very much.
ADERHOLT:  Thank you, Congressman Engel.  Let me just jump into some of the 
questions.  Of course, one of the most obvious things that we want to really 
talk about today is the role that OSCE’s presence has played in trying to 
resolve the problem associated with these electons.  And, Ambassador, I would 
like to get your thoughts on what role that has been.  Is it a useful role as 
these upcoming elections are in sight, and also the elections in the past?
REEKER:  Thank you, Congressman, Aderholt.  I think it really is important to 
highlight OSCE and the role it plays throughout the region, but particularly as 
we look at Albania today.  I would point out at the start that our ambassador 
and the succession of ambassadors before him has worked very closely with the 
OSCE head of mission on the ground in Albania.  Mr. Wolfarth, the OSCE head of 
mission, will be leaving soon, and a new head of mission will be arriving.  And 
I know Ambassador Arvizu very much looks forward to continuing that 
relationship because the OSCE mission is vital in helping move Albania closer 
to conducting the free and fair elections in compliance with its OSCE 
commitments.  These are commitments that are made through membership in OSCE, 
and these are international standards.  We appreciate very much the lead that 
OSCE is taking and coordinating the efforts on the ground to support the 
elections.  Looking back, as I mentioned in my testimony after Albania’s 2009 
parliamentary election and the 2011 local elections, OSCE/ODIHR – that’s the 
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights – provided a series of 
recommendations to improve Albania’s electoral institutions.  Many of them are 
reflected in the new electoral code.  Over the last year, OSCE has worked to 
improve the capacity of the Albanian government to conduct the elections, and 
the management training that they provided to the Central Election Commission 
and the members of that commission - including voter education, capacity 
building programs, the work with civil society organizations, public 
information sessions on Albania’s electoral code  – these all work toward that 
goal.  
And we have to remember the context that we’ve discussed here today.  This is a 
country that just two generations ago was emerging from extraordinary isolation 
in the concepts of democracy and participation by citizens.  Rule of law, free 
and fair elections were something they were not used to.  OSCE has played a 
vital role in that.  And so we will continue, the United States, through our 
embassy and our programs based and sourced out of Washington, to work with the 
OSCE mission, with the European Union mission in Tirani.  And I would note that 
all three of those missions, acting together, have made the same call – the 
same call I mentioned, that you have mentioned for Albania’s political parties 
to engage in constructive dialogue and follow the guidelines of Albania’s 
current legal environment.  The citizens of Albania deserve no less.  And I’d 
just point out that the United States will deploy a full contribution, as 
permitted under the usual OSCE/ODIHR rules for international election 
observation missions.  We welcome the parliamentary assembly’s participation, 
and this is part of the major U.S. commitment to an overall international 
assistance effort, which is we are doing everything we can to help Albania and 
its institutions in this regard.
ADERHOLT:  You mentioned in your opening comments this Central Election 
Commission.  That’s a little bit foreign for us here in the United States 
because we don’t have a system quite like that set up.  Since that is sort of a 
foreign concept for us, could you just walk us through how that commission is 
set up?
REEKER:  Well, the Central Election Commission in Albania, which is created 
under its electoral codes and laws should consist of seven members.  And it 
plays an important role as an institution in terms of being apolitical, free 
from interference from any political party or individual or an institution, and 
that includes the courts.  It’s an independent institution charged with 
conducting the elections.  And I think we have to remember that Albania’s 
institutions are young, they are ones that have not been always fully tested, 
and as we recounted in comments earlier, have not always been able to conduct 
elections that meet the expectations not only of the citizens but the 
commitments that Albania has taken internationally.
We, the United States, and our international partners, and I would say the 
people of Albania, are counting on all the parties to deliver nothing less than 
elections that are free and fair, and that are viewed as such by not only the 
parties but by the people themselves.  And what I’ve often said when I visited 
Albania and talked about the importance of elections is that they need to have 
elections that are reflective of a NATO member state.  There are standards that 
we have for members in NATO.  Those were standards that were judged to have 
been met when countries were invited to join the alliance, and we believe that 
the capacity is there for institutions like the Central Election Commission to 
fulfill its role and help in the conduct of elections.  The CEC oversees a set 
of electoral districts, 89 electoral centers.  Each of those centers has 
observers that watch the conduct of the election and the counting of ballots in 
those locations.  There are, as I said, 89 of those.  And we want to have 
confidence in a process.  Again, it’s not the results that are ultimately 
important.  There will be winners in these elections, but the real winners will 
be the people of Albania, if they are confident in the outcome of the elections 
and if the perception from the international community, as well as the citizens 
of Albania, is that these elections have been carried out well.
ADERHOLT:  Let me just jump in here.  One thing, in your opening comments you 
mentioned about the CEC, Central Election Commission, and you of course 
mentioned there were seven members of it.  And how are those members selected?
REEKER:  They are selected by the majority and the minority opposition parties, 
but as nonpolitical actors.  I think it’s important to remember that these 
seven should be selected and then should not be under any pressure or 
obligation to any political party or individual – or any individual candidate.  
Right now, as you may know, the CEC has only four sitting members.  This is of 
concern to us.  To be credible and to be effective, we believe that the CEC 
should be filled out.  All its members should be present.  That’s what citizens 
will expect.
ADERHOLT:  And walk us a little bit through why the vacancies are occurring 
right now.
REEKER:  You had resignations after one member was replaced.  And these are 
processes in which the politicians, the political actors, have an obligation 
now to select new members to fill out those seats, and they have not taken that 
action yet.  And we look to the politicians to fulfill their obligations, to do 
what they’re elected to do and to put forward names to fill these seats on the 
Central Election Commission.
ADERHOLT:  So based on the way the elections are set up in this country, it’s 
important that this seven-member CEC board is fully functioning and operating.  
And right now, you’re saying there’s only four members of that commission.  And 
it’s up to the parliament to replace those other members that are vacant.  Is 
that correct?
REEKER:  The majority or governing party’s coalition and the opposition should 
put forward names for those seats.  Technically, under law, the CEC can operate 
with four members, but it’s only four out of seven.  And there are certain 
decisions they cannot take just with four members.  So to be effective, to have 
full credibility, we need to see those seats filled.  
ADERHOLT:  When do you expect those to be filled?
REEKER:  I’d say yesterday, but that’s a question for Albania’s part of the 
officials.  It’s something we have urged, the others in the international 
community have urged this, and we continue to call upon the authorities, the 
politicians, the parties to put forward names.  They need to sit down together. 
 We believe they have the capacity to do this and an obligation to do this and 
to fill those empty seats.
ADERHOLT:  You said there was four vacants.  Is that correct?
REEKER:  There are three vacancies.
ADERHOLT:  Three vacancies.  Out of the three vacancies, are they split between 
the parties?
REEKER:  The three opposition seats need to be filled.  The four of the seats 
that are currently filled are those that are selected by the governing 
coalition.  The three opposition seats need to be filled, and we would call 
upon them to do that.
ADERHOLT:  Have they indicated why they’re not filling those seats?
REEKER:  I think it’s politics, and it’s time to move beyond that and fulfill 
the obligations, to sit down, to make the compromises necessary, to find names 
that are acceptable, that can fulfill the nonpartisan role in this very 
important institution with just 45 days before the elections are held.
ADERHOLT:  OK.  Let me turn it over to Congressman Engel.
ENGEL:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Ambassador, knowing the past results 
of elections and not wanting to take sides in any of the elections, it would 
seem to me that in order for Albania to move in a positive direction to become 
a member of the EU, it’s obviously unhelpful if there’s this kind of turmoil 
and helpful if both sides respect the results of the elections.  So I’m just 
wondering what you see, what you believe.  Do you believe that absent any major 
problems with the conduct of the elections, Albania’s political leaders will 
respect the results win or lose?  Do you believe that they would learn the 
lesson and would avoid being provoked in a way that could lead to street 
protests and possible violent confrontations as we had?  And what do you think 
they could reasonably do in the days after the election if a new parliament and 
government off to the best possible start?
REEKER:  Well, I welcome that question.  Thank you, Congressman Engle, because 
I think it’s important to step back and reflect.  As I said, we can look at the 
past.  Albania does not have a highly positive track record in terms of many of 
its elections.  What can be learned from those elections, international 
observers and organizations like the OSCE have offered recommendations, and the 
OSCE and the Parliamentarian Assembly and others in the international 
community, including the United States, will be there to help.  We have – as a 
friend and supporter of Albania - we have invested about a million dollars to 
support the election process through outreach, education programs, technical 
assistance to the CEC and through our own election-monitoring efforts.  I think 
it’s incumbent upon leaders to show courage.  You talked about courage that’s 
been shown recently by other leaders in the region, that they take the 
necessary steps to make sure these elections are conducted according to law in 
a manner that, as I said before, is befitting a country that is a member of 
NATO.  We are very proud to have Albania as a member of NATO and that they made 
the significant steps and progress necessary to become that.  But they need to 
demonstrate to their own people, as well as to their allies and to the world, 
that they indeed can live up to those expectations and commitments.  So it will 
be incumbent upon leaders to not only conduct the elections right, but to 
respect the outcome.  And all party leaders should then call upon their 
supporters to respect that outcome.  It’s not – again, as we’ve said a couple 
of times, it’s not who wins.  The United States has no favorites in this.  Our 
favorite in the process is the country, its institutions and its people, and we 
want to see that be successful. 
And I think it’s important to say in this setting that make no mistake, the 
United States, as well as the people of Albania, will be very disappointed if 
there is election manipulation or outside pressure on institutions like the 
CEC.  If this happens, we will not stand by in silence.
ENGEL:  Let me say this.  I was in Albania several years ago when they 
conducted one of the elections.  I think it was actually on July 4th of that 
year.  And I remember witnessing it firsthand and really being amazed at how 
many people were going to the polls, who were demonstrating their right to 
participate in democracy and vote.  It reminded me a lot about our own country. 
 And I have always regarded Albanians as the most pro-American people, probably 
in the world.  You know, when there are demonstrations or when Kosovo became 
independent, there were more American flags, I think, than any other flag being 
flown.  And so when you consider where the people of Albania were and where 
they’ve gone to, it’s just a remarkable success story.  Even though there were 
a few bumps along the way, we have to, I think, put things in perspective:  
When I was growing up, this was the most isolated country in Europe, and now, 
it’s as pro-U.S. and pro-democracy as any other country in Europe.
I want to ask you about the CEC – thinking back to what Mr. Aderholt had 
mentioned:  If the three vacancies are all opposition appointees – I don’t 
understand, wouldn’t it benefit each faction to appoint a full contingent to 
the CEC?  Wouldn’t you want to have more people on the CEC to think that you 
would get a fair shake?  So why does that motivate you for not doing it?  

And do you think that this is something that will be prolonged, I mean, if they 
appointed their three people next week, I guess it wouldn’t matter.  If it goes 
to June 23rd, I think it would cast great doubt on the election.

REEKER:  Well, I think, Congressman, the best message that I can deliver is 
that we can’t tell them how to solve their current problem in the CEC or how to 
live their lives, conduct a democracy.  What we can point them to is the 
institutions that they have that offer the opportunity and expectations, the 
commitments that they have made.  And I think the best message is for the 
parties to get together, for them to look for compromise and find a solution 
that allows the CEC to carry out its mandate and to do that in a credible and 
effective manner.

And I am confident, because like you, Congressman, I spent time with 
politicians in Albania; I consider them across the political spectrum to be 
friends, just as we are friends with the people of Albania.  And I am confident 
that they have the capability to set aside their calculations and sit down and 
do what’s best for the institution, for the CEC in this case, and try to find a 
compromise, again, that allows the CEC to carry out its mandate effectively and 
credibly.  And I’m quite confident they can do that.  

We can’t tell them prescriptively, this is what you have to do, but we know and 
I think the people of Albania know that responsible political leaders will do 
that, will sit down and find a solution and do it soon, now, so that they can 
have the confidences that in the run-up to these elections, June 23rd, that 
they will be free, fair elections that can demonstrate the will of the people.

ENGEL:  What impact would the successful conduct of an election in Albania have 
on the region, on the rest of the Balkans, neighboring countries, such as 
Macedonia and Montenegro.  Is there any direct relationships between 
developments in Albania and some developments in neighboring countries?

REEKER:  Well, thank you for asking that question, because as someone that 
works on the whole region – and you know this very well, Congressman – Balkan 
politicians are always very mindful of the situation in neighboring countries.  
And they do draw comparisons.  And so I think no national election can be 
viewed in isolation.  And that goes for the upcoming elections in Albania.  I 
think we’ve witnessed recently several examples in the region of countries 
solving seemingly intractable problems or moving forward on their democratic 
paths and their path of Euro-Atlantic integration – like Slovenia finding a way 
forward in its longstanding dispute with Croatia, to ratify Croatia’s accession 
treaty; the Serbia-Kosovo Agreement through the EU-facilitated dialogue that 
you mentioned earlier – these have an impact.  And they are looked at 
throughout the region.

Now, if you think about the past year, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, have all 
held elections that were considered generally to be free and fair and met most 
of the OSCE/ODIHR standards.  And so we hope that Albanians will do their best 
to replicate this success.  

And a successful election would indeed serve to reinforce Albania’s democratic 
progress and could serve as yet another example to the region.  Often, Albania 
has been a very good model for the region in terms of working well with its 
neighbors and could serve again as a – as an example of democratic progress.  
We would like to see Albania play a critical leadership role in the region, as 
they have, particularly in engagements with other ethnic Albanian populations 
in Macedonia, in Montenegro and southern Serbia and indeed, further afield, in 
Italy and in Greece.

So this is an opportunity and a time for Albania to lead by example.  And good 
conduct of elections would be an example of that.  And I know that it would not 
go unnoticed in Brussels and in the capitals of European Union member states.  
My colleagues in the European Union institutions and the European Commission 
have worked extremely hard to try to help Albania along that path towards EU 
candidacy.

ENGEL:  Well, Ambassador, thank you again.  I want to thank you for your good 
work all through the years and for your clear, intelligent testimony this 
afternoon.  As a member of Congress who has been most involved in Albania, 
through the years I have believed in the Albanian people and I have confidence 
that this election will go smoothly and that Albania will continue on the path 
that it has continued since it overthrew the shackles of communism and moved 
forward and not only be a NATO member but an EU member as well.

 So, again, thank you and look forward to continuing to work with you.

REEKER:  Thank you very much, Congressman.  And I should just note that the 
example we set by working between the executive branch and the legislative 
branch in unison on issues like our support for Albania – our insistence and 
encouragement that Albania and its leaders live up to their potential, meet the 
commitments they’ve made – is itself a model and helps us with this joint 
effort.

Thank you for all you do for Albania and for the region.

ENGEL:  Thank you.

ADERHOLT:  Ambassador, let me just ask before we go to the next panel, the 
investigation of the “Yellow House” case and the alleged organ trafficking, how 
far advanced is the investigation, and have the Albanian authorities been 
cooperative in the investigation as it’s gone forward? 

REEKER:  Thank you, Congressman.  Let me say at the outset that the United 
States takes all allegations of war crimes and other serious crimes extremely 
seriously.  We support the full and thorough investigation of the allegations 
contained in the 2010 report of the Council of Europe known as the Marty 
Report.  And that investigation, as you indicated, is being carried out by the 
Special Investigative Task Force of the European Union under the EULEX, a 
thorough criminal investigation, which encompasses multiple jurisdictions.  As 
you noticed – noted, this involves Albania, as well as Kosovo and other 
countries potentially in the region, examining the allegations which are more 
than a decade old.  This will invariably be long and complex, but I think we 
are all pleased that the task force, which is led by former U.S. 
ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, Clint Williamson, one of the most 
qualified individuals in this field in the world.  

They have made good progress.  They collected evidence, working on enhancing 
cooperation with third countries, including Albania and conducted operational 
investigative activities.  The Albanian government is cooperating with this 
investigation.  It’s worth noting that in May of 2012, about a year ago, the 
Albanian Parliament passed a law with near unanimous support that permitted the 
EULEX’s Special Investigative Task Force to investigate allegations made in the 
Marty Report.  And Prime Minister Berisha himself expressed publicly support 
for this endeavor.

So like with any investigation, we don’t want to prejudge the outcome of the 
ongoing investigation simply to underscore our support for a thorough and 
complete investigation for those who are carrying it out.  And we want to 
commend the governments of Kosovo and Albania, Serbia and others in the region 
for their cooperation in this issue.

ADERHOLT:  Well, thank you very much, Ambassador, for your presence here today 
and your work involved in the region.  And as my colleague Eliot Engel 
mentioned, we are very hopeful that the elections that occur in June will be 
free, fair and that it, you know, can be resolved in the CEC issue, which I 
think really is important for them to move forward and to make sure that not 
only is there an honest election, but also the perception that there’s an 
honest election.  So we certainly wish the best for Albania as they move 
forward over the next several weeks.

So thank for being here and we look forward to working with you on issues of 
common concern.

REEKER:  Thank you, Congressman.

ADERHOLT:  Our second panel consists of two experts on the current situation in 
Albania.  Elez Biberaj is well known to the Helsinki Commission for his 
expertise regarding Albania, Kosovo and the Balkans.  He has participated in 
previous commission hearings on Albania and served us greatly as an official 
interpreter in the early 1990s.  At the time, he was head of the Albanian 
service of Voice of America and now serves as the Voice of America’s director 
of Eurasia.  We’re grateful to the Voice of America for always ensuring our 
concerns are heard and for allowing here his presence here this afternoon.

Also joining the second panel is Besa Shahini.  She might not be as quite as 
well-known in Washington at the moment, but she is a highly respected analyst 
for European Stability Initiative from Kosovo, now serving in Albania with 
funding from the Open Society Foundation and German Marshall Fund.  She 
provides not only the added benefit to us as an informed perspective directly 
from Albania, but she also represents a new generation of intelligent minds 
that exists throughout the Balkans, committed to the human rights, committed to 
democracy and to Europe.  It is the quality of people like her that we need in 
this region and that gives us hope for the future.  Dr. Biberaj, let me start 
with you to give your opening statements.  And then we’ll go to Ms. Shahini

BIBERAJ:  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  Congressman Engel, good to see 
you.  Thank you very much for the invitation to testify before the Commission.  
It is an honor for me to appear before you and to offer my personal views on 
Albania’s political prospects and democratic challenges.

The June parliamentary elections will mark a milestone in Albania’s political 
development.  They will be a test of the country’s democratic maturity and of 
its bid to join the European Union.  Albania’s record of contested elections 
and the post-election disputes have raised concerns regarding Albania’s ability 
to hold free and fair elections in accordance with international standards.  
And as the current dispute over the composition of the central electoral 
commission demonstrates, the lack of a stable electoral infrastructure has 
undermined confidence in the electoral process and the administration of the 
elections.

The upcoming elections offer both challenges and opportunities for Albania.  
The inability to hold smooth elections is politically risky for Albania.  It 
will hamper its political stability, it will signal a worsening in democratic 
practices and it will complicate Tirana’s relations with the United States and 
European Union.  

Credible elections, on the other hand, whose results are certified by domestic 
and international observers and accepted by the major players, will open new 
opportunities for Albania.  Albania would be able then to build on the 
significant progress that the country has achieved in recent years.  It will 
strengthen its role as a constructive regional actor and will significantly 
improve its EU membership prospects.

Albania has made remarkable progress in terms of its economic and social 
development and efforts to join Euro-Atlantic institutions.  The Albanian 
political landscape is fundamentally different today from 10 years or 20 years 
ago.  But still, Albanian politics remain deadlocked and deeply dysfunctional.  
Some of the difficulties that Albania has encountered on its road to a 
consolidated democracy can be ascribed to the country’s lack of a democratic 
culture, the communist legacy and economic underdevelopment.  However, the 
current high level of politization and defragmentation is a direct result of 
the two major political parties, the ruling democratic party and the opposition 
socialist party, refusing to engage in the give and take that is normally 
associated with a democratic order.

The failure to embrace the rule of law, the widespread corruption that we see 
in Albania today and political stagnation has left the country without durable, 
democratic and civic institutions.  Since the 2009 elections, which the 
Democratic Party won by a narrow vote, Albania has experienced a serious crisis 
and relations between the government and the opposition have been marred by 
constant tensions.

The socialists contested the results, boycotted the parliament, restored – 
resorted to threats, ultimatums and other destructive actions in pursuit of 
their demands.  The democrats maintained an uncompromising attitude and refused 
to take any meaningful measures to reach out to the opposition.  The dispute, a 
long dispute over the elections, led to a long political impasse.  It diverted 
attention from other much more important issues, like economic and social 
challenges that the country faces.  It stalled progress on key reforms and 
tarnished Albania’s image and democratic credentials.  In December 2012, 
European Commission refused for the third year in a row to grant Albania 
candidate status.

Despite the controversy surrounding right now the composition of the Central 
Electoral Commission, the election campaign so far has been conducted in a much 
calmer and dynamic environment than in past elections.  While there are dozens 
of political parties, the democrats and the socialists continue to dominate 
Albanian politics.  Other smaller parties have limited popular support and most 
of them are led by politicians who split off from the Democratic or Socialist 
Party over disagreements with their top leaderships.

With the exception of two new forces that are contesting the elections on their 
own, and those are former President Bamir Topi’s New Democratic Spirit and the 
Red and Black Alliance, all other parties are – have coalesced with the two 
major parties’ coalitions.

The Democrats have been in power since 2005 and under their leadership, Albania 
has made significant progress on many fronts.  But after eight years in power, 
the ruling party appears vulnerable and concerned about an erosion in its 
popularity.  Some blame the government for the post-2009 election gridlock and 
the slow progress that the country has made towards EU integration.  

In addition, growing economic hardships, the inability of the government to 
decisively address the corruption issue and increased social discontent make 
the democrats susceptible to a public backlash.  The socialist party views the 
2013 elections as its best chance of returning to power.  And it hopes to 
benefit from a possible anti-incumbent backlash.  The socialists have made very 
ambitious election pledges, focusing the campaign on accusations of poor 
governance, mismanagement, corruption and democratic stronghold on 
institutional power.

Albania, Mr. Chairman, is a country at a critical crossroads, torn between a 
potentially destabilizing political confrontation and the aspiration for 
national prosperity, democratic consolidation and European integration.  The 
country cannot afford another contested election that would likely trigger a 
destabilizing conflict and adversely impact Tirana’s relations with Washington 
and with Brussels.

The elections offer Albanian political actors an opportunity to move beyond the 
usual zero-sum game approach to elections, to demonstrate their commitment to 
democratic consolidation and to re-institutionalize democratic politics.  The 
end of the political deadlock and the brinksmanship that we’ve seen in recent 
years would unleash the great potential that the Albanians have, and it would 
pave the way for Albania’s membership in the European Union.  Elections alone, 
however, even if they’re held in full accordance with the highest international 
standards, are not a solve for Albania’s democratization.  The new government 
that will emerge from these elections will be faced with formidable challenges 
and can ill-afford to be distracted by a prolonged post-election dispute.  

Albania has the capacity to reinvigorate democratic reforms and restore the 
public’s confidence in the political process but to re-energize democracy and 
advance their nation’s democratic aspirations, Albanian political elites must 
do much more to establish the rule of law, to empower nonprofit institutions, 
to reduce corruption and to dispel the widespread perception that politicians 
are enriching themselves at the expense of average citizens.  The role of the 
international community will remain critical.  The United States and the 
European Union have been forthright in their support of democracy, as in their 
criticism of democratic failings.  

While domestic political polarization and gridlock have led to Albania fatigue 
in some circles, I think it is important that Washington and Brussels continue 
to engage Albania using their very significant leverage to force democratic 
progress, as well as to address democratic transgressions.  A stable, 
democratic and prosperous Albania, firmly anchored in the Euro-Atlantic 
community, is in the national interest of the United States. 

Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you today.

ADERHOLT:  Thank you for your testimony.  

Ms. Shahini, we would like to hear from you.  Please proceed.

SHAHINI:  Thank you very much.  We, as a think tank, have been working for many 
years, since 1999, in producing in-depth research on social and economic 
developments in the Balkans.  And we contribute to debates about EU integration 
of the western Balkans, Turkey and south Caucasus.  This moment in Albania’s 
history is actually very momentous when it comes to what’s happening with EU 
enlargement and considering that these elections will, in a way, determine the 
next steps of Albania path towards EU integration.

Now, what we are seeing on the ground actually is that it has already started 
off on a bad footing.  And we would like to draw attention to recent violations 
of democratic principles in Albania, as the country’s preparing for its June 
elections.  There was always fear that these elections would fall short of 
international standards and precipitating a major political crisis, and the 
results would then be a loss of a credible prospect of progress towards 
European integration.  

But to counter this risk, we would actually like to make a call and argue that 
the international community must take a strong and uncompromising stand on the 
democratic principles that must be observed.  And we still have a chance, I 
believe, to make a difference here.  

As was said, Albania has applied for EU membership four years ago.  It hasn’t 
yet received a positive response because it hasn’t met political criteria.  One 
of the key criteria is the stability of institutions.  And since the 2009 
elections, as was already mentioned, for two years in a row the opposition 
boycotted the parliament and the institutions were just not there to be able to 
foster the kind of political consensus that is necessary for the kind of deep 
reform that the EU integration process requires. 

Now, what this means in the geopolitical context of the western Balkans is that 
there is increasingly two different groups of countries forming in their  path 
towards EU integration.  It is the countries that are frontrunners in making 
progress – like Croatia which is joining this year, Montenegro, that has 
started negotiations, and likely with Serbia, now with  agreements with Kosovo, 
might actually receive a date for starting negotiations.

And the laggers, which include:  Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and, as 
long as the name issue is not resolved, Macedonia.  In this, we see a bit of a 
problem because it is the poorer parts of the western Balkans that are 
reinforcing in this vicious cycle of remaining where they are and not moving 
forward.  

One of the requirements by the European Union for Albania has actually been on 
elections as well.  And there were two out of the 12 priorities that the 
commission had pointed out for Albania that pertained specifically to 
elections.  One has to do with Albania must modify its electoral legislation in 
accordance with OSCE recommendations, which has mostly been done for six months 
in 2012 in an election reform.  And the second is that it must ensure that the 
elections are conducted in line with the European and international standards, 
and here is where we believe that already a breach of these standards has 
occurred.  

As we have said, there was a removal of one member of the Central Election 
Commission by the parliament in the middle of April – 15th of April.  And this 
followed a change in party coalitions.  So the Socialist Movement for 
Integration, which was a coalition member of – with the Democratic Party that 
was forming the government, moved into a pre-election coalition with the 
Socialist Party.  

And the Democratic Party parliamentary group then put in a request to remove 
the member that was actually nominated by the Social Movement for Integration 
from the Central Election Commission and replace him with another member from 
party that was in coalition with the Democratic Party, which was the Republican 
Party.

The U.S. Ambassador to Tirana made a statement as this discussion was happening 
in the parliament.  And he actually said that the CEC was properly and legally 
constituted and mandated and its institution is responsible for the conduct of 
the election.  And as such, it is important for the independence of this 
institution to be respected.  The CEC should be free from interference of any 
individual or any institution, and that includes the parliament of Albania, 
indicating that this was violating the principles that were enshrined in the 
codes that organize elections in Albania.

Following this, the Democratic Party parliamentary group found a decree from 
2003 that removed the Mr. Muho who is the Socialist Movement for Integration 
Party nominee to the Central Election Commission – 

ADERHOLT:  What is his name?

SHAHINI:  Mr. Muho – M-U-H-O.  

ADERHOLT:  Thank you.  Go ahead.

SHAHINI:  And he basically said that he was removed from his duties as a 
prosecutor because of a violation and proposed that his nomination was in fact 
against the law and it was breaching Article 12 of the electoral code, which 
had said that you cannot nominate someone who has been removed from office onto 
the Central Election Commission.  This was then voted after 12 hours of debate 
in the parliament.  And Mr. Muho was removed and replaced by a member from the 
Republican Party.

Following this, three Central Election Commission commissioners from the 
opposition  resigned.  You had asked Ambassador Reeker what was the reason for 
their resignation.  The way that they described this, is that since the 
legitimacy of the institution was already touched, they cannot continue working 
in an institution the legitimacy of which has already been put into question.

This now poses two challenges for the organization of this election.  One is 
that the democratic principles and the legitimacy of organizing this election 
has been already breached, but the second is that we have the Central Election 
Commission with four members only, that cannot actually do its functions 
properly, one of them being adjudicating on complaints.

This election will most probably be very close, as elections always are in 
Albania.  There are indicators for people who are looking into possible 
election results – there are indicators that maybe there are going to be four 
or five regions and districts where there will be 500 to about a thousand votes 
that will determine a seat going one way or another.  

And it will come down to the institutions that will be counting those 500 to a 
thousand votes.  There should be trust enshrined in those institutions that 
will actually be counting these and, should there be problems, there’s an 
institution that will be adjudicating on the complaints following this. 

What can be done?  Outsiders cannot really substitute for the goodwill of the 
national leaders.  They can, however, help mitigate conflicts before and during 
and after the election day.  And the key message from all international 
observers, and in particular from European Union, must be that all Albanian 
institutions must rigorously respect the laws they themselves have adopted.  
And setting out red lines in advance makes it less likely that they will be 
transgressed.

One of the red lines is that members of the election administration cannot be 
removed for reasons not specified in the code.  And the second is that counting 
and adjudicating of complaints and appeals must be through strict observation 
of election code procedures.  Now – by taking a clear position now and 
insisting on a reversal of the decision to dismiss a member of the CEC who had 
been appointed for six years, the U.S. and the European Union increase the 
likelihood that such red lines will not be crossed.

And we do realize – in closing, we do realize that most leverage here lies with 
the European Union, considering that Albania is attempting to join the EU, 
however the voices from the U.S. and the statements from the U.S. are very 
important, not only for the Albanian public but for the Albanian politicians as 
well.  And I think making these strong statements on how these elections should 
be conducted by actually following the principles enshrined in the election 
code will be very important.

Thank you.

ADERHOLT:  Congressman Engel, I’m going to turn it over to you and let you ask 
any questions to start the round. 

 ENGEL:  All right.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  First of all, Dr. 
Biberaj, it’s a pleasure to see you again.  We have seen each other many times 
over the past 25 years.  And your work – your good work within not only the 
Albanian community but VOA and all the other things is duly noted.  And I found 
your testimony to be very, very important testimony.  So I want to thank you 
for that.  And Ms. Shahini, I don’t know you as well as I know Dr. Biberaj, but 
I appreciate your testimony and getting to the heart of the matter.

Let me ask Ms. Shahini something first, and then I’ll ask Dr. Biberaj.  I’m 
very interested in your description of the controversy with Mr. Muho, the 
members of the CEC.  You explained why there are three vacancies now at the 
CEC.  Does the fact that there is already a dispute over the CEC, as you 
described, bode not so well for what might happen down the road with the 
elections?  

The fact that the parliamentary elections were held and then the party who lost 
did not return to the parliament I think showed the outside world that perhaps 
Albania wasn’t quite ready to move to the next step.  Are we in danger of 
seeing that happen again because of this dispute with the CEC?

SHAHINI:  Absolutely.  Thank you for this question.  Absolutely.  We believe 
that that is why this is such an important conversation to have right now and 
to try and see if something can be done to reverse what has happened and to 
reconstitute somehow a Central Election Commission before the election takes 
place.  A lot of the functions can be done with four members.  However, after 
the election day – after the counting, it’s going to very impossible for them 
to dispatch of their duties with only four members.  They will need five out of 
seven.  

And because the election’s going to be so close, the fear is that the 
incentives for both election fraud and for accusing each other of election 
fraud even if there isn’t any, will be very high.  So it is important that the 
institutions in place are trusted and are allowed to dispatch of their duties 
without being politically influenced.

ENGEL:  Help me again to understand.  Each of the major political parties 
appoint three people to the CEC and then it would seem that the swing vote, the 
seventh person, is appointed – or was from, you said, the Republican Party 
which was in coalition with the Democratic Party.  We got to work on that, 
Robert, and have Republicans and Democrats in Washington do something in 
coalition.  (Laughter.)

But because these commissioners are politically appointed, is it unrealistic 
for the party that is in a coalition-majority to say, well, since the person 
who was appointed switched sides, we should be entitled to having our person?  
I mean, we’re talking on the one hand about making the CEC independent – making 
an institution that impartially looks at the elections, but then we see that 
the CEC is constituted by political appointments.  

So by its very nature it’s a divided commission with that seventh vote sort of 
the swing vote.  So of course they’re going to argue over that seventh vote.  
That seventh vote could well-determine who wins the election down the road.  So 
isn’t that an inherent conflict, to have the parties appointing these 
commissioners and then expecting them to conduct an election free and fair of 
whichever party that each side belongs to?

SHAHINI:  Thank you for that question.  The nominations are political.  Three 
nominations come from the government coalition and three come from the 
opposition, and then there is one independent.  However, they are voted by the 
parliament for a mandate for six years each.  And they’re supposed to discharge 
of their duties apolitically.  And they cannot be influenced politically.  And 
this is inherent in their job descriptions.  

It is like, for example, appointing to the U.S. Supreme Court.  They are 
political, but then they cannot be removed every time government changes.  In 
this respect, it is no problem that they are politically nominated if they are 
allowed to then do their work properly after they are sworn in by the 
parliament.

ENGEL:  Thank you very much.  

Dr. Biberaj, how as the Euro crisis affected Albania economically and socially, 
especially since Albania has ties, obviously, to Greece and Italy, which are 
nearby.  Is the Albanian economy rebounding or is it really a captive of what 
goes on in the rest of Europe?

BIBERAJ:  Thank you, Congressman.  Italy and Greece are Albania’s most 
important economic partners.  There are probably between 800,000 to one million 
Albanians who live and work in Greece.  And these are Albanians who moved to 
Greece since the early 1990s.  Albania seems to have weathered the crisis 
relatively well in the last three years, but economic growth rates have 
declined this year – last year, actually.  Real GDP growth in 2012 was down to 
1.6 percent.  And that is down from 3 percent in 2011 and 3.5 (percent) in 
2010.  

This year, according to forecasts, it will still have positive growth, but it’s 
likely to be around 1 percent.  So the crisis in Greece and Italy has had a 
significant impact, leading to a drop in capital and also in the remittances 
from – especially from Greece.  And another challenge that the government has 
had has been in terms of attracting foreign investments.  And that has been a 
real challenge.

ENGEL:  Thank you.  Could either one of you discuss the role of the media in 
Albanian politics?  How accurate is the news reporting by state broadcasters 
and various private outlets?  Is there evidence that the population is seeking 
university of viewpoints or do people watch or listen to or read the media that 
only reinforces their existing views and biases?  We know, for instance, the 
various newspapers tend to lean in one direction or another.  Do people who 
generally support whatever party only read those papers or are there large 
segments of the society still open to be influenced?  What role does the media 
play in this?

BIBERAJ:  I can try to address that, Congressman.  Albania has a vibrant and 
free media.  All forces have access to the media in Albania, the print media as 
well as television, and of course, the Internet.  The public broadcasting, the 
public TV tends to give more prominent coverage to the government and to the 
ruling party.  

But while the media is free, it cannot be said that it is independent.  There’s 
been a failure to provide accurate and balanced reporting, not only on the part 
of the state television but also from private TV stations.  Most of them are 
allied either to the Democratic or the Socialist party, and they also, some of 
them are owned by powerful businessmen and then the owners more or less dictate 
the editorial policy there.
Both the Democrats and the Socialists have used the media to buttress their 
popular perception of their own leadership and to also downplay or undermine 
the role of the opposition or the opposing camp.  During the election – during 
the election campaigns, the media do make an effort – they have to make an 
effort to play their role to provide balanced viewpoints, to explain the 
different party platforms and we’re beginning to see that.  So there is an 
opportunity for debate, for roundtable discussions. And what we’re seeing in 
the recent past, in the last few years or so, the various political forces and 
the political leaders are making increased use of the social media to publicize 
their programs and also to engage voters.
ENGEL:  Let me ask you, since you know the country so well, what do you see as 
the concerns of private citizens in Albania?  We have discussed with the State 
Department and the international community what we can do to influence the 
situation in Albania to make sure there is free and fair elections.  But is 
there also pressure within the country, from the average person, to hold free 
and fair elections and to hold elected officials accountable for their actions 
and to advocate the policies and the reforms which would move the country 
forward?  What is the role of average citizens, and is it a more positive role 
as the years go on than, let’s say, 10 years ago?
BIBERAJ:  There is some popular pressure on the politicians, but not enough 
pressure, in my view, to really have an impact on the behavior of the 
politicians.  In terms of the most important concerns of that the population 
has, I think it’s the economy.  Despite the significant progress that Albania 
has made, poverty in Albania is widespread and unemployment is very, very high. 
 People are very concerned about widespread corruption.  And the slow progress 
toward EU also appears to be a serious concern.
In terms of the civil society, there are a lot of nongovernmental 
organizations, but their impact is pretty limited, in my opinion, but perhaps 
my colleague can throw some light on the situation.
SHAHINI:  Just very briefly, civil society has been pushing for free and fair 
elections.  Of course, there are all these organizations that are planning to 
monitor the election – the Coalition of Local Observers being one of them – a 
coalition of many organizations, including this.  However, it’s very difficult, 
I think, for civil society organizations to become an actor in a place where 
the rule of law is not respected.  If political agreements among two political 
parties go above the law, that means that the smaller parties, civil society 
and the citizens are going to be marginalized.  And in this respect, again 
going back to how indicative this decision on Central Election Commission was, 
notwithstanding how much work the civil society’s been doing, it has only a 
limited role in this respect.
ENGEL:  And finally, let me ask both of you a question about what you believe, 
if you could predict, will happen in the June 23rd election.  Not who’s going 
to win, but will these elections be conducted in a free and fair way, by and 
large, and will the political leaders respect the results, win or lose?  Do you 
think they might avoid provoking confrontations?  We had some confrontations 
last election, some of them violent.  Then after the election is held, what can 
they reasonably do after the election is held to get them into parliament and 
government off to the best possible start?
BIBERAJ:  I’m cautiously optimistic that Albania will have good elections.  I 
think Albania has a capacity to hold free and fair elections.  The last four 
years have been a good lesson to the politicians of Albania, and I believe they 
do realize what is at stake.  And I hope we’re at the point where they will 
give priority to the national interests of the country rather than to their own 
personal or party interests. 
What is important, I think, is to have a strong international observer presence 
in the country during the elections, to have the U.S. and the EU maintain a 
unified stand, both in terms of rewarding them for good elections but also 
taking actions if there are violations of the elections.  And the international 
community real has got to be willing to use its leverage.  The U.S. and EU have 
lots of leverage, and they need to be able to show they’re willing to use if in 
fact there are serious election transgressions.
ENGEL:  Thank you.
Ms. Shahini?
SHAHINI:  I actually believe that these elections will be contested, especially 
if the Central Election Commission remains with four people and that means that 
one level of adjudication will be removed from the institutions that work with 
adjudicating complaints after the election.  So we fear that a crisis will 
ensue after the conduct of the election in June of this year.
ENGEL:  OK.  So we have one on a more positive note and one more negative one.  
I hope that all parties in Albania will understand that the world is watching 
these elections and could very well determine whether Albania moves forward or 
backward.  I hope they will move forward, and I hope that is what will happen.
Thank you.  Thank you both.
ADERHOLT:  Thank you.  Let me just follow up and, because I find this CEC issue 
very intriguing, ask how as to move forward.  Before going to the next panel, 
clarify for me right now that you have the majority party that submits three 
names, the minority party that submits three names.  I’m unclear on the seventh 
name, which is not to be aligned with either party.  How is that name 
submitted, or how is that person selected?
SHAHINI:  With the recent changes to the electoral code, the seventh person, 
which is also the chair of the Central Election Commission, independently 
applies, and the parliament votes on a number of applications, and they choose 
one person.  So the seventh member is not a political nominee.
ADERHOLT:  All right.  And I think, really, Congressman Engel really sort of 
really hit the nail on the head when he mentions the fact that you try to set 
this up as an apolitical institution, but you have political nominees that must 
follow through with it and so I think that’s a sticking point, when you have to 
try to make an apolitical or nonpolitical commission, but yet do that through 
the parties.  And so, I think, that’s what makes this so difficult, because I 
think each party sees each of those members as somewhat supportive of their 
principles, and then, of course, that seventh is someone that maybe should not 
be political or perhaps not submitted by either party.
So this is something I think we’re going to have to watch, since we’re having a 
breakdown with part of the commission that has resigned, so to speak.  And 
clearly, I think you need seven members for it to function.  And I would agree 
with you, Ms. Shahini, that that has to be seven members to be functional.  I 
think operating with either the ones from the minority or the majority, it’s 
just not a good recipe to move forward.

Has there been any discussion that either one of you have heard about maybe 
starting over and just appointing a new commission altogether and let each 
party submit new names and just start from the beginning and try to move 
forward at that point?

SHAHINI:  Thank you.  I think, before answering that, I just want to say that 
we sympathize with this need to have a politically balanced CEC.  However, it’s 
not foreseen in the code.  The whole idea of having an electoral code and 
following it strictly is that it ensures trust in elections.  So in this 
respect, since the code does not foresee firing people for any other reason but 
grave breaches of law, the removal was illegitimate in this respect.  And thus, 
it raises questions about the legitimacy of the election.

Parties are discussing.  I think the Socialist Party has proposed some other 
way of reconstituting the Central Election Commission.  However, it should be 
done according to what the code foresees.  So any other suggestions that are 
not according to the law will then breach these principles that we’re trying to 
uphold anyway.  So I think a lot of thinking has to be now put in place about 
what can be done.  Instead, what we are suggesting is to go back to how the 
central election commission was…

ADERHOLT:  If this is not resolved so that each parties are satisfied on this, 
do you think that the election should be postponed?

SHAHINI:  I cannot answer that.  I don’t know.

ADERHOLT:  Dr. Biberaj, could you comment on that?

BIBERAJ:  I’m not aware of any discussions on this issue between the Democrats 
and the Socialists, although there might be a discussion going on behind the 
scene.  There’s a possibility for the U.S. ambassador and the EU ambassador 
there to mediate this.  I think postponing the elections would be a very, very 
bad outcome of this controversy here.

They have time to resolve this issue, and if there is political will on both 
sides, I think they can resolve it.  But postponing the elections would really 
send a very, very bad signal to the people of Albania, to the international 
community and would really indicate that the Albanians are really now very 
serious about their democratic aspirations or at least the politicians 
themselves.

ADERHOLT:  No, I agree.  And don’t take me wrong:  I’m not suggesting that that 
be the situation, but considering there’s a breakdown in this CEC that seems to 
be real the crux of this election,  that poses a real problem and clearly 
having four members is a real problem just from the appearance of it.

So anyway, we will follow it with great interest over the next few weeks and we 
appreciate both of your testimony here this afternoon and look forward to 
working with you in the future on Balkan and Albanian issues.  Thank you.

SHAHINI:  Thank you.

ADERHOLT:  Our final panel features Gilbert Galanxhi, the Ambassador of the 
Republic of Albania to the United States of America.  He is a good friend of 
the Helsinki Commission and has previously served in Vienna as his country’s 
representative to OSCE.  He knows the issues that OSCE deals with very well.  
As with other countries at other hearings, it is only right to afford the 
opportunity to an ambassador to respond to the concerns that are raised today.  
It may not be an easy task, but your presence here, Mr. Ambassador, is a 
recognition that it is legitimate for us to raise these concerns and that we 
raise them in the spirit of friendship and the desire to improve the lives of 
the citizens of Albania.

So I wanted to thank you for being here today, and look forward to your 
testimony.  We are sort of on limited time this afternoon, so if you could 
limit your comments and we’ll submit your entire statement for the record so 
that we can get to the questions. So you may proceed.

GALANXHI:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Honorable Congressman Engel, distinguished 
participants, please allow me to thank the U.S. Helsinki Commission for 
providing me this opportunity to share with you some thoughts on the 
achievements, developments and concerns that Albania has been experiencing 
recently.  I also want to thank all the previous speakers for their 
presentations.

Distinguished friends, it is an undeniable fact that Albania has made 
tremendous progress in the last two decades in every respect – in economy, 
trade, investments, infrastructure, public order, education, 
institution-building, et cetera.  But this does not mean that we are 
self-satisfied with that.  On the contrary, we are fully aware that we have a 
lot more to do.

Yet, what you and almost all Western democracies have achieved in more than 250 
years we have sought to achieve in less than 25 years.  We are conscious that 
we have to, because there is no other agenda, nor any better option for Albania 
than full integration into the European Union.  We fully understand that this 
requires us to fully embrace the best standards and norms as enshrined in the 
Helsinki Final Act.  Nobody has ever said that this will be easy.  We are fully 
aware of that.

It would be quite unrealistic to pretend that everything has been going 
perfectly well in Albania.  That is why we are here today trying to recognize 
the progress that has been achieved while at the same time throwing light to 
the difficulties that we are encountering, and most importantly, trying to find 
the best solutions for moving ahead.  We need and appreciate the good advice 
and assistance that comes from our best and principled friend, the United 
States of America.

In 2009 elections, Albania met most OSCE commitments, including all key 
commitments.  Yet the result was not accepted by the losing party, which 
boycotted the parliament for two successive years.  A lot of opportunities were 
lost, especially with the crucial reforms needed for speeding up the EU 
integration process.  Following the November 2011 political agreement between 
the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, a number of laws that require 
consensus between the ruling majority and the opposition have been approved, 
including changes to the constitution for limiting the immunity from 
prosecution for members of parliament, government ministers and judges.

Also vitally important was the consensual electoral reform, which led to an 
improved electoral code, an improved climate of cooperation as well as the 
agreement on a very balanced Central Election Commission – CEC - and the other 
subordinate commissions.  The electoral process in Albania appeared to be 
unfolding smoothly.  Quite unexpectedly, a month ago, the second biggest party 
of the governing majority, after co-governing for four years, decided to pull 
out of the government and join the opposition.  From that moment, we have to 
live with the new political reality in Albania.  We cannot ignore this new 
reality in offering prescriptions and making decisions with respect to very 
important issues, such as election administration.

During these recent weeks, there has been a very hot debate regarding the 
composition of the CEC, which is the main institution responsible for the 
preparation and conduct of elections in Albania.  There are two main elements 
that must be taken into consideration in order to understand this problem, but 
more importantly to give sound judgment with the long-term positive affect on 
the country.

One, respect for the legal framework that has been in place in Albania since 
2004.  According to the existing legal framework, the parliament had all the 
legal basis to fix what seemed to be broken.  It acted to remove one member of 
the CEC because his appointment had been made in violation to the law, 
specifically it was determined that he had given false testimony in his 
confirmation hearing session, hiding the fact that in 2003 he had been – he had 
been dismissed from the duty of public prosecutor by a presidential decree.  
The parliament reacted as soon as this fact became known.  

The second, respect for the political consensus in favor of a politically 
balanced CEC that was agreed to when the current government was in opposition 
and the current opposition was in power.  Under this agreement, the governing 
majority has a four-to-three majority in the commission, but the opposition is 
protected by the requirement of Article 24 of the electoral code that says:  
The CEC can only act when no less than five members have voted in favor.  The 
shift of one party from the governing majority to the opposition means balance, 
not only the CEC but also all the subordinate conditions at the regional and 
local levels.  

Consequently, and artificially, we have the opposition becoming majority in CEC 
with four members and the governing majority becoming majority with three 
members.  Accordingly, because of this distorted reality, the opposition would 
control 50 percent of the regional commissions, with a four-to-three majority, 
and the other 50 percent of the regional conditions with a five-to-two 
advantage, which means no voting mechanism at all.

In every true democracy, the term democracy means the will of the majority 
through the right of vote.  Through an open and transparent vote, the Albanian 
parliament did the right thing legally, politically and morally, to bring back 
the integrity and the legitimacy of a balanced CEC as a guarantee for having a 
standardized process, as well as free and fair elections.  In order for the 
process to flow smoothly, the vacancies in the CEC and all subordinate 
conditions must be filled out as required by the law.

Thank you.  For the record, the full version will be distributed and deposited 
with the Helsinki Commission.

ALDERHOLT:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Thank you for your testimony and we 
appreciate your presence here today.

Let me just ask you about the situation in Albania as a whole and your thoughts 
on the citizens of Albania being satisfied with the pace of progress in the 
democratic development that has occurred over the last decade.  Do you see the 
people satisfied with the pace of progress?  And what are some issues that you 
think may need to be addressed?

GALANXHI:  Thank you for the question, Mr. Chairman.  I believe that the 
majority of Albanians are satisfied with the pace of progress.  So, as I said, 
we have moved ahead so rapidly in the last two decades, and especially in the 
last eight years.  Who’d ever thought that Albania would be a NATO member a few 
years ago?  

Economic reforms have progressed well.  We all know the economic difficulties 
of the world after 2008, 2009.  Albania still kept growth of its GDP, not at 
the desired figures, but it still kept growth.  So we didn’t have a recession.  
Foreign direct investment has been constant.  So we receive almost one billion 
U.S. dollars every year in foreign direct investments.  And our main trade 
partners are Italy, Greece and Turkey, and now we see Canada in first place for 
foreign direct investments.  So we have made this mechanism to move forward.  

And furthermore, the government has taken all the necessary steps to ease doing 
business in Albania.  So all tendering procedures are electronic.  So all 
bidding is electronic to increase transparency.  And doing business is easy 
because it’s one-stop shop.  You can register your business in one day or in a 
few minutes, let’s say.  So the fiscal system that we use is quite appropriate 
for attracting foreign investments and investments in general, even locally, 
because it’s very flexible, it’s very appealing and creates great win-win 
opportunities for foreign investors but also for the Albanians.  
 
ALDERHOLT:  Does the Albanian government see that the role that OSCE plays is 
useful as we try to encourage the political dialogue?

GALANXHI:  Being an ambassador to OSCE in Vienna, so I think I know this area 
well, we really evaluate the cooperation that we have with OSCE, with 
parliamentaries and with ODHIR as well, as a value that is helping Albania move 
forward in its democratic path.  So we know there is criticism sometimes, but 
we know this criticism comes from our good friends who wish us well.  So they 
are not ill-intended.  That’s why we view the cooperation with OSCE in Albania 
– and it has a good presence; I think we have several good missions there – as 
very fruitful.  

If you consider the electoral code, which has passed with consensus in 
Parliament, it’s a product of cooperation with OSCE and we have to thank them 
for giving us very good advice.  It’s a very good code.  It only needs a good 
political will by all parties to apply it.  I can quote you about, let’s say, 
the composition of CEC.  It’s crystal clear how it is acted.  You know, it’s 
three members that come from the governing majority – the governing coalition 
and three members that come from the opposition coalition.  And the seventh 
member, just to clarify, belongs to the governing majority, but they present 
several candidates to the opposition and the opposition can pick and choose the 
person who seems to be more fit for the job.  This is it.  

So that’s why I mentioned that the Central Electoral Commission has a ratio 
four-to-three for the governing coalition because at the very end of the day 
it’s the government which is held responsible for conducting elections.  
Opposition is an opposition.

ADERHOLT:  Well, thank you, Ambassador.  Mr. Engel?

ENGEL:  Thank you.  Hello, Mr. Ambassador.  It’s good to see you.  And you 
have, in my opinion, done a fine job for Albania.  We have had many, many 
contacts.  So it’s good to hear you.

I agree with you, in your opening statement, that Albania’s made great strides 
but there is still a lot of work to do.  And I am very concerned about this 
Central Election Commission dispute, because anything which may cast doubt on 
the viability of the elections after they’re held, you know, cannot be good for 
the country.  We all share in wanting to make sure that the elections are free 
and fair, and that all sides have had the ability to participate freely and 
fairly.

So I’m worried that, if there is another close election as we’ve seen in recent 
years, this dispute in the CEC could make it seem like the elections were not 
free and fair.  So I hope that this can be resolved because I think to leave it 
hanging going into June 23rd would be a very bad mistake.  I wonder if you have 
any comments on that.

GALANXHI:  Thank you, Mr. Congressman.  I fully understand that this is not a 
pleasant situation, having only four members in the commission working and 
three others not being present there.  The problem is, as you mentioned before, 
that these members of the CEC are elected by parties, and it would be, let’s 
say, very naïve to believe that they are apolitical. What we witnessed is that 
three members of the commission resigned.  Everybody believes upon an order by 
the party.

And even if I quote my previous speakers, they refer to them as members from 
the opposition.  Everybody in Albania knows that members in the commission are 
promoted, are also proposed and are also elected by the parliament, which is a 
political body.  So it would be quite unfair to believe that these seven 
members of a commission, the next morning, become nonpartisan and apolitical.  
We have to keep that in mind.  We have to be realistic and true to life.  The 
electoral code is crystal clear about that.

I may quote articles, but you can refer to articles 12 and 14 and 18.  It’s 
crystal clear.  Two commissioners are proposed by the ruling governing party, 
which has the majority of seats.  The third is proposed and elected by the 
second biggest party or the second groupings of the governing majority.  The 
fourth and the fifth are proposed and elected by the biggest opposition party 
in parliament.  The sixth is proposed and elected by the second biggest party 
or the second-biggest grouping in the opposition.  So you have a perfect 
balance, 3 to 3.

And then you have the chairman of the commission, who is elected upon the 
proposal of the ruling coalition – the governing coalition - with the 
endorsement of the opposition so that they can pick and choose among three or 
four candidates.  And there is also a perfect balance achieved, at least in 
law, in providing for the rest of the commissions, for the whole pyramid of 
commissions – regional and polling stations - where you have 50 percent of the 
commissions that should be controlled by the opposition with a 4 to 3 majority, 
and 50 percent from the governing coalition, again with a 4 to 3 majority.

But, it is also crystal clear in electoral code that for important decisions, 
you need five votes, which gives the opposition the right protection for misuse 
of power.  So you cannot pass important decisions with four votes.  The problem 
is, this small party that moved from government to opposition belongs to the 
government or it belongs to the opposition?  This is the political question, 
OK?  And the real question – the real thing is that, OK, we need to have 
balanced commissions in order to produce a reliable and trustworthy result.

ENGEL:  Well, have there been talks to try to resolve this, because again, we 
saw what happened with the election several years ago, when one party refused 
to come to parliament.  It created an unstable situation, and it set back a lot 
of the movement forward to joining the EU and things like that, because this is 
what countries are looking at.  Have there been discussions to resolve the 
situation?  Because my worry, frankly, is that if this stays the way it is, 
unless there is a landslide for one party or another – and past history shows 
the country’s pretty evenly divided – whoever loses the election will dispute 
it and will point to the CEC disagreement as a major reason as to why the 
election was not free and fair.  That’s my worry, and so have there been talks? 
 Have there been discussions?  Have there been proposals?  Is it realistic to 
think that this can be settled before the election?  Because I really think 
it’s important that it is.

MR. GALANXHI:  Your concerns and worries are quite justified, are quite right.  
I’m not aware – and I cannot predict - what’s going on in Tirana between the 
political parties but I always prefer to refer to the law.  In any possible 
scenario or possible agreement, the Central Electoral Commission will be three 
members for the opposition, three members for the governing majority, and the 
chairman, who is elected by the government majority.

So the governing majority has already four members.  It’s three vacancies that 
belong to the opposition.  These should be filled.  This is the requirement of 
the law.  So we have to stick to the law.  We speak so much about rule of law, 
but we have to apply the law in all its letters.  So I don’t know if there are 
discussions or negotiations going on.  I cannot say it from here.  But my 
understanding, by reading the law, is this: that in whatever scenario, three 
members belong to the opposition, and the vacancies are there.  It’s three 
vacancies.

ENGEL:  OK, let me change the subject, and before I do that, let me again state 
that I really hope, as someone who has been the best friend of Albania in the 
entire Congress for more than two decades, I really hope that this can get 
resolved, because I can see this dispute spilling over, after the results of 
the election, when whatever side loses will potentially attempt to delegitimize 
the elections based on this dispute with the CEC.

NATO membership.  We were all very, very proud and happy that Albania became a 
member of NATO.  Let me ask you hat effect has NATO membership had on Albania 
since 2008?  Does it make a difference as far as internal politics, or is this 
something that both sides have embraced?

GALANXHI:  Thank you.  It’s a very good question.  I believe that this has 
produced only positive effects.  Albania’s membership in NATO has been a great 
achievement.  It has been a rebirth of the Albanian nation, and it has produced 
much more stability not only in Albania but in the region as well.  In a 
certain way, it has promoted foreign investment, because they consider Albania 
to be a safe place.

But also, it has promoted good values into the internal politics.  So we have 
seen, after the NATO membership, that there was a period of cooperation and 
good collaboration between government and opposition, as it was the case of 
changing the constitution, because there are certain requirements that Albanian 
politicians should behave like politicians of a mega-member state.

In the region, I think it has produced more stability, because fortunately, we 
see that all the region – all the countries, all our neighbors - have at least 
the goal for NATO membership and for EU membership.  So in other words, we are 
moving in the same direction but with different speeds.

ENGEL:  Well let me ask you, since you mentioned EU membership, the possibility 
of EU membership, how does that factor into the politics of Albania today?  
Joining the EU is a strong incentive, I think, for positive change, for moving 
forward, to making sure elections are free and fair, because the EU is 
obviously going to be looking at these elections.  So what’s the next step, in 
your opinion, which Albania would take on this path, and what must it do to 
take it in terms of joining the EU?

GALANXHI:  I think that EU perspective is the biggest carrot that Albania has 
for the moment.  But we have to be clear about that.  We don’t want to have it 
donated to us, because we know we want EU membership in the first place for 
Albania’s citizens, and we have to do our homework so that this membership can 
be merit-based.  And this lays before all politicians in Albania from all the 
political spectrum the perspective of working hard to achieve that.  
Unfortunately, we have missed for three consecutive years the candidate’s 
status possibility.  I hope that we can make it this year, but we have to see 
the result of the elections and the post-election period as well.  But I 
believe this is the big thing that all Albanians expect.  It was on merit base 
that we had visa liberalization with EU in December 2010, and we believe it 
will be on merit-based again for having the candidate status as soon as 
possible.

ENGEL:  Well, I’m going to end the hearing on that positive note.  I know the 
United States is not a member of the EU, obviously, but I hope that Albania 
will soon become a member of the EU.  And I want to thank you, Mr. Ambassador, 
for your testimony.  I want to thank all the witnesses, and the hearing is now 
officially adjourned.

GALANXHI:  Thank you.

[Whereupon, at 4:59 pm, the hearing was adjourned.]

(END)