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August 20, 2013 / catherinebwrites


In the Albanian mountains

In the Albanian mountains

The next part of our work in Albania was to observe the return of the ballot boxes to the count centre and then the ballot count,   I cannot comment on how the count was conducted but I can tell you the form it took .

The evening of election day  was hot,   Hot, hot ,hot.   Somewhere in the high thirties.

“Welcome to the oven!” grinned Ibrahim, when we arrived at the school gym hall  where the count would take place.

Ibrahim was the Chairman in charge.   The gym was divided lengthwise. Two thirds reserved for Election officials, the ballot boxes, and the tables for the people  doing the count.  One third for  the observers.   We arrived at six in the evening.    All the windows were securely closed for security reasons.   The doors were open but the doors led to small rooms that led to a corridor  that lead to the school playground so there wasn’t a lot of  fresh air.  At this point there were only ourselves and the election committee  and already  the heat was horrendous.

Over the next six hours the ballot boxes arrived and were checked in.   Officials we’d met during the day  reminded us gleefully that they were now finished work and off for a beer while we had to stay through the night.  Thanks lads.   At two in the morning  all the boxes were in,  all the formalities  completed and they were ready to start the count.

Observers from the political parties, citizen observers and NGO observers now swarmed into the hall.    We reckoned about 200 of them.    The larger parties had seats at the front line of desks closest to the count. The rest took their places behind many had to stand. They got out their notebooks and pencils.   Then they lit up their cigarettes.   yes… almost everyone  smoked.

There were six counting tables each with a camera connected to a TV screen  which faced the observers.   People who live In countries with little experience of democracy and much experience of totalitarian regimes,  are naturally worried that the election could  be undermined.   In order to prevent that they develop regulations  which seem complex and awkward to many of us .   Here’s how the Albanian system worked.

There were sixty-eight parties contesting the election.   That’s right, 68.   So each ballot paper was about 2 feet long and maybe ten inches wide.   The  vote is for the party not the candidate.   The  parties publish a list of candidates and when the final results are declared, choose from that list .    Each table had four people to count the ballots. One from the Democratic Party one from the Socialist Party and two more choosen from the groupings of smaller parties.j

1.  They remove the ballots from the box  and lay them  flat on the table, right side down.

2. They hold  the reverse of the ballot up to the camera to show that it has all the required stamps.

3, They hold the front of the ballot to the camera to show the voter’s mark.

4, They  call out which party the vote is for and place it in the relevant pile.

5. They separate  spoiled votes.

5. If there is a doubt about the validity of a ballot the Chairman is called.   He consults the rules and makes a decision.

That’s all nice and straightforward except that  the observers become involved.   Not only were they  noting the ballot numbers, they were demanding to see the ballots again, questioning  the validity of the marks and so on,.   Several times I thought that some kind of fracas was breaking out but no… Elsa assured me that it was  just the Albanian way.    Even the calmest and most balanced discussions involve shouting and gesticulation.

The count continued all Sunday night,   All  day Monday,   All Monday night and on until about 10am on Tuesday,   Occasionally we got a chance to go out to the school yard to get a breath of air,    Coming back was like descending into Hell. what with the heat, the stale air and the smoke.   Within minutes  our clothes were soaked with sweat.    .  But hey, we had a job to do and somehow the high energy in the hall kept us awake and alert. A woman observer seeing the sweat roll down my face gave me her fan,  After a while I just poured water down my back to cool down a bit.   Water, sweat, what did it matter?    I was soaked anyway. We got a couple of hours sleep on the Sunday night and a couple more on the Monday but the rest of the time we were there observing and sweating and drinking gallons of water.

After several hours I lost track of time so I don’t remember  exactly when it began to be obvious that the ruling party were losing the election.   Democratic Party  observers became very concerned,  they wanted to check and recheck every ballot.

Soon it turned into a landslide and most of the Democtratic Party observers left.   But that didn’t mean that the crowds abated.   They were  replaced by new crowd of observers.   A group of young men  gathered close to where we were sitting. They were huge and had obviously spent hours and hours in the gym.   Their heads were shaven, their necks were thick, their muscles were bulging and they all wore  tight tea shirts and smoked.    Who were they I wondered?    Some kind of trouble makers?   A group of  them blocked our view and I had to ask them to move.   That’s when I discovered that they were the sweetest, politest, most charming   young men I’d ever met!   They apologised profusely and made sure  to stay out of our line of vision .   They shared their pizza with us,   They bought us water and soft drinks.   The offered us cigarettes.   Well no wonder they could afford to be charming .   They were Socialist Party supporters and their party was winning.

From then on there was a festive atmosphere.   The count speeded up and  our centre was one of the first in the  country to finished the count.    The result was announced to a chorus of clapping and cheers.   The party had started … but that’s a blog for another day.  First we had to  line down and rest.




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