Albanian citizens will obtain ID cards before general elections this summer. Authorities will then use the ID card information to issue new biometric passports.
By Jonilda Koci for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 20/01/09
The new cards contain fingerprints, general information and a digital photo. [Gent Shkullaku]
Albania's new identity cards, which the government began distributing last week, will be a key element in implementing European standards for elections this summer. Each new card contains fingerprints, general information and a digital photo of the card-holder. Authorities will use the ID card information to issue new biometric passports.
Authorities expect the personal data to help reduce voter fraud. "This is a golden opportunity for every citizen to contribute to the upcoming election process being free and fair," Prime Minister Sali Berisha said.
In addition, the biometric passports, which will cost 60 euros, are a requirement for liberalisation of the visa regime with the EU.
Within two years, every Albanian citizen will have a new passport -- rendering the current passports obsolete. Berisha hailed the passports as "first-class documents" that would enable Albanians to "travel more freely abroad".
Around 400 centres opened throughout the country on January 12th to take applications for the new cards. Sagem Security, a French company that won an international tender, manages the centres.
Every Albanian citizen over 16 needs the new ID card. The government has enacted stiff penalties to ensure compliance; for example, public employees and the elderly will not receive their wages and pensions if they fail to apply.
In addition, students cannot enroll in schools and universities if they do not have the new identity card by March 30th.
The identity cards will cost about ten euros and will be valid for ten years. Mindful of the financial hardship to many Albanians, the government plans to reimburse 65% to 70% of the IDs' cost to low-income families, 50% to elderly pensioners and 30% to public employees.
"The identity card and the biometric passports both reflect the best standards of identification documents in Europe," said Albanian Civil State Office General-Director Armand Teliti. The documents meet all EU standards and will contain EU symbols such as the Union map.
The opposition, however, has expressed its misgivings over major organisational problems. Main opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama criticised the government on Monday (January 19th) for failing to establish an efficient registration system for the new IDs and passports, while an MP from his party, Bledi Klosi, complained, "Citizens are not [clear] on the procedure of the application for the identity cards, and the process is not transparent enough."
The credibility of past elections in Albania has suffered from disputes over the authenticity of identity documents and of voter registries.