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Helsinki Chair Brownback to Weigh in on Albanian Elections

 WASHINGTON – Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, announced today his intention to introduce a resolution in the Senate calling for upcoming elections in Albania to be free and fair.  The decision was made in the wake of an April 28 telephone call between Senator Brownback and Mr. Erion Veliaj of the Albanian pro-democracy MJAFT! organization.

“After speaking with Mr. Veliaj, it is clear to me that Albanian democracy is still on shaky foundations,” said Brownback, “so I want the Commission, and the Congress as a whole, to take a proactive part in Albania.  My resolution will bring to the attention of the Congress that the freedom loving people of Albania need our support.”

The Helsinki Commission is an independent Federal agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and officials representing the State, Defense and Commerce Departments.

“Albania has the opportunity to hold parliamentary elections in July in accordance with international standards, but there is concern that a lack of transparency makes the process vulnerable to illegal voting tactics and money laundering,” noted Brownback.  “By shining a spotlight on Albania, the Commission can play a useful role in stabilizing Albanian democracy.”

MJAFT!, Albanian for ENOUGH, is a pro-democracy youth organization.  Founded in 2003, MJAFT! works to improve democracy in Albania as well as tackle corruption and quality of life issues.  MJAFT!’s website states, “This website is for active citizens only.  We bear no responsibility for any discomfort this may bring to corrupt officials and indifferent citizens.…”

While expressing concern about the election process, Veliaj highlighted efforts by MJAFT! to increase election-day turnout with public-opinion polls, a get-out-the-vote campaign and candidate debates. 

“MJAFT! does wonderful work.  They don’t just focus on elections because they understand that democracy is not just about votes.  It’s about making civil society work and making government accountable to the people,” added Brownback.  “The Commission will remain an active partner with those who defend human rights and strengthen democracy in Albania and elsewhere.”

In addition to the elections, Senator Brownback and Veliaj also discussed the negative impact a draft religion law could have on religious freedom in Albania, as well as the potential for recently licensed casinos to contribute to the country’s money-laundering problems.

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