05 June 2009
John L WithersThe US ambassador in Tirana expressed concern on Thursday about the process of issuing voters new identity cards in order to cast ballots in June 28 parliamentary elections, which will be a crucial litmus test for Albania's EU aspirations.
About 760,000 of Albania's three million citizens do not have passports, and will be allowed to cast ballots in the upcoming elections only upon obtaining new identity cards. While the opposition says the process of issuing new identity cards ahead of the election is running out of time, the government says everything is going according to plan.“I cannot say how extensive these problems are but there are examples of them, particularly for people who live in smaller towns it is very important that these problems are solved as soon as possible to give them the possibility to apply for the ID cards,” Withers told a Friday press conference.
“These are the people that are most at risk, in my view, of disenfranchisement and that is a serious concern because one of the critical elements of any election that meets a universal international standard to be called free and fair is universal suffrage – that anyone who wishes to vote has the opportunity to vote, and that there are no barriers that would prevent that person from voting,” he added.
According to the Interior Ministry, out of a voter list of nearly 3.1 million, 1.2 million citizens have already applied for the new identity documents, while 696,311 had already been handed new IDs by Wednesday With Albania newly-promoted to NATO membership status and having filed for EU candidate status, the ballot is seen as a crucial test of the county's democratic credentials.