Letter:Albanian poll results were legitimate

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Sir: Andrew Gumbel implies ("Europe turns a blind eye to Albanian poll", 31 May) that many international observers were prevented by political sympathies from condemning the "overwhelming but almost certainly fraudulent victory claimed by President Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party". Having just returned from Albania, I can assure your correspondent that the more favourable impressions of these elections gained by myself and four other members of a monitoring mission sent by the British Helsinki Human Rights Group are grounded in our observations and not prejudice.

Having noted numerous irregularities of precisely the kind that Gumbel mentions in elections we have monitored in Transcaucasia, Central Asia and even Russia, what strikes us as strange is why the polls held in these other Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) member states have invariably been judged "free and fair", while the far more impartially-administered electoral process in Albania attracted an unprecedented level of criticism.

It is not true to say that the elections were "boycotted by all but one opposition party". Had the Socialists and others indeed withdrawn from the contest ahead of voting day, their claims to have been the victims of a one-sided media campaign against them would have had greater credibility. Instead, they pulled out in the early evening of the first round of voting, once the first exit polls had shown they were unlikely to win by the ballot box. In other words, they tried to have it both ways: to stand in an election which, having lost, they then denounced as illegitimate.

JOHNATHAN SUNLEY

London SW1

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