Elections are, of course, the basis of democracy. In the framework of the OSCE's comprehensive approach to security, electoral processes are considered key to every country's stability. This is a security as well as a theoretical issue. Respect for voters' and candidates' civil and political rights, impartial election administration, equitable access and unbiased coverage by the media, accurate voter lists, honest counting and tabulation of votes, the equal participation of women in electoral processes, and free and fair campaign environment, are among the key principles we all aim for.
·The OSCE and also our Office for Democratic Institution and Human Rights provides assistance in developing and implementing electoral legislation. Our election observations, assessments and recommendations have provided the bases for electoral reforms in many OSCE participating States - Albania included, and this is the basis of the work that the OSCE Presence has developed in the country. These are long-term partnerships around fundamental values, and, as always, I am happy and proud that the OSCE Presence has been able to give some financial and other support to make this week's event happen. We have been assisting the Albanian authorities for more than a decade in improving electoral processes and conducting elections in an independent and professional manner.
·The OSCE/ODIHR reports have been consistent in emphasizing that impartiality of election commissions needs to be enhanced; that the legal framework does not provide sufficient transparency in campaign finance reporting; that pressure is applied to public sector employees to attend campaigns or to vote in a certain way; and that allegations of vote-buying persist. Albania is hopefully about to start a substantial electoral reform, based on these recommendations from recent elections - recommendations developed both by international observers and by local observers. There is a full consensus around this. Still the latest mayoral by-election in Albania - held less than two weeks ago - showed once again the need to undertake a thorough electoral reform that will ensure, among other things, the de-politicization of election administration, a meaningful gender equality in political representation and in election commissions.
·The OSCE Presence is committed to assist the Albanian authorities in undertaking a reform that is all-inclusive and in line with our shared international commitments. We also emphasize that it should be a timely reform, allowing the law to be properly implemented prior to next year's general elections.
·I take the opportunity of this excellent inclusive event to assure you that the OSCE Presence will continue support our partners in the Albanian institutions in their efforts to offer elections that fully meet international standards and citizens' demands.