Albanian elections — A story of disputed results and conflict

Albanian elections — A story of disputed results and conflict

The following is a historical look at Albanian elections and an analysis of the parties in the current race, their programs, ambitions and coalitions, as well as some background information about the political and economic context in which these elections

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Editorial: Albania decides: The future is not what it used to be

Editorial: Albania decides: The future is not what it used to be

By Alba Çela On Sunday, June 25, Albanians will cast their ballots to decide the make-up and course of Albanian political landscape but also the fate of many ongoing key reform processes that the country is undergoing. This is the

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Elections 2017: What’s at stake? Seven things to keep in mind as Albanians head to the polls

Elections 2017: What’s at stake? Seven things to keep in mind as Albanians head to the polls

The parliamentary elections that will be held this Sunday, June 25, 2017, are unique in Albania’s recent history. They are the most unpredictable and the calmest since the fall of communism. They are also a paradox as elections go. And

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Albanians head to polling stations to elect new prime minister

Albanians head to polling stations to elect new prime minister

TIRANA, June 23 – Albania’s voters are heading to polling centers across the country this Sunday to choose their next representatives to parliament and decide who will lead the country’s government for the next four years. While voters are choosing

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Editorial: The unraveling of an ugly alliance

Editorial: The unraveling of an ugly alliance

The coalition between the Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration always felt like a forced deal, an unnatural development, an obnoxious handshake. In the entirety of its four years both sides blackmailed, pressured and bothered each other. They

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As SP, DP try to squeeze out SMI, harsh rhetoric makes campaign comeback

As SP, DP try to squeeze out SMI, harsh rhetoric makes campaign comeback

TIRANA, June 14 – President-elect Ilir Meta has issued a warning to the country’s two largest parties not to engage in vote rigging if they want to lead the next government. “I will not decree as prime minister or minister

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Justice reform must be implemented despite renewed resistance from judges, urge US, EU, NGOs

Justice reform must be implemented despite renewed resistance from judges, urge US, EU, NGOs

TIRANA, June 13 – Albania’s justice reform must go on despite a motion by two judges’ unions to the Constitutional Court to void certain aspects of the vetting process, say political leaders, civil society organizations and foreign diplomats. The leaders

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Tirana’s landmark Skanderbeg square gets facelift ahead of elections

Tirana’s landmark Skanderbeg square gets facelift ahead of elections

TIRANA, June 12 – Tirana’s landmark Skanderbeg square has been given a facelift under a €13 million government-funded project that has completely transformed the most important public space linked to a number of historical events and manifestations from King Zog’s

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Editorial: Why foreign policy is missing from Albania’s electoral campaign

Editorial: Why foreign policy is missing from Albania’s electoral campaign

By ALBERT RAKIPI It is understandable that in a small country like Albania foreign policy is not going to get much attention on the campaign trail. That’s even more the case in a small country that is poor, has frighteningly

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Johan Ndisi: ‘We hope elections adhere to international standards’

Johan Ndisi: ‘We hope elections adhere to international standards’

By Rudina Hoxha On the occasion of his country’s National Day, Sweden’s Ambassador to Albania, Johan Ndisi, underlined in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times that Sweden hopes that the forthcoming elections will, as far as possible, adhere to international

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                    [post_content] => The following is a historical look at Albanian elections and an analysis of the parties in the current race, their programs, ambitions and coalitions, as well as some background information about the political and economic context in which these elections take place.

Albania has a short and poor history of operating under a multiparty political system, one that provides several alternative parties and candidates on which voters then decide through elections. Albania’s first experiment in democracy, back in the 192os and 1930s, was short lived. It ended tragically with the establishment of the communist regime after World War II. In December 1945, the communist regime organized the first parliamentary elections after coming to power. They were the first and last nominally pluralistic elections held by the communists. Immediately after the elections, the communist regime launched a campaign of terror against the liberal opposition that had begun to emerge. A number of opposition candidates who ran in the 1945 election were arrested and severely persecuted. After that, the parliamentary elections in Albania were simply a charade. While elections took place every four years, voters had no alternatives from which to choose. They were rubber-stamp elections for a rubber-stamp parliament, since the creation of political parties or organizations other than the Communist Party (later renamed the Labour Party) was banned by the constitution. The so-called elections were always won by Democratic Front candidates, an organization set up by the Communist Party, and they were won with results that consistently went to up to 99.99 percent. Turnout was also 99.99 percent, if not 100 percent. Non-participation in elections was considered treason to the Communist Party and the country and it came with harsh penalties such as imprisonment, political internment and loss of right to vote in the future.

With this dark legacy, Albania held its first pluralistic election on March 31, 1991, after nearly a half century of communist dictatorship. For the first time, there was a true opposition party in the race. The Democratic Party had been founded in December 1990, following a pro-democracy movement led by students at the University of Tirana. That first electoral process was conducted in an atmosphere of chaos, intimidation and violence. The opposition won a clear victory in the big cities, however, failed to win the election in the rest of the country. The case of the 1991 election was, among other things, an example of the opposition (the Democratic Party at that time) not competing with just the party in power -- the Communists of the Labour Party -- but with the entire state apparatus with its bureaucracy, resources -- human and material -- including instruments and institutions of violence and terror, such as the secret police, which were still very much feared at the time.

The use of all the state’s power in the 1991 election, including instruments of violence as well as propaganda (primarily through the public information institutions like the Albanian Radio Television) continued what had been common practice during the fake election processes held under the communist regime. But unlike previous elections, in the first multiparty election of March 31, 1991, the state and its institutions were used against a real political opposition. Unfortunately, such practice of using state resources against the opposition continued to be present in all future democratic elections. The circumstances and dynamics were different, but the practice of using the state’s power and resources to favor of the ruling party has been a continuous feature in all Albanian elections.

 On March 22, 1992, parliamentary elections were organized by a caretaker government, following the resignation of the last communist-led government in May 1991. The polls brought to power the non-communist opposition, represented by the Democratic Party[1]. These 1992 parliamentary elections entered into Albania's post-communist history as one of the few processes where the losing side did not contest the results. However, it is difficult for these elections to be seen as normal and a pure case of an uncontested process, because these elections did not simply mark a change in government, they marked a change in regime, one that had completely lost its legitimacy[2].

On May 26, 1996, Albania held the next parliamentary election. The race marked the first confrontation between the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Socialist Party, a rebranded and reformed Labour Party. In many respects, these elections were seen as a real test of the ability of Albania’s fragile democracy to function. The process was a failure. The Socialist Party and its smaller allies abandoned the election, saying the process had been rigged. What could have been a normal victory for the Democratic Party became a charade after government candidates "won" almost all constituencies[3]. The Socialist opposition disowned the results of these elections and boycotted parliament and other institutions. Within a few months, the country was engulfed by anarchy, following the collapse of pyramid schemes that accompanied the failure of the electoral process. These Ponzi investment schemes took away the savings of most of the country’s citizens, leading to riots and rebellion. The 1997 crisis, the worst in the modern history of Albania, led to the entire collapse of the state. This crisis was not just associated with the failure of pyramid schemes, it also had roots in the failure of the political elite to organize proper parliamentary elections.

Slightly more than a year after the election of 1996, the country went to the polls again in early elections, which were held during a grave period for Albania, and with the presence of a multinational military force, which was called in to maintain law and order.

The elections of June 29, 1997 were held under a climate of tension in which there was lack of state control over large parts of the territory, lack of security, and an inability of candidates to go to almost half of Albania depending on the party they represented. As such, more than an election, the polls were an institutional effort to find a solution for the crisis in Albania. The elections were won by the Socialist Party and its allies. For a time, President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, in opposition, did not recognize the electoral process as free and fair. Just as the Socialists had boycotted parliament after the elections of 1996, the Democrats boycotted parliament after the 1997 polls.

By this time, a dominant feature of post-communist Albania had appeared: a trend in which the election results are contested by the losers who then boycott institutions, creating a crisis that demands the involvement of the international community.[4] In the future, even if any progress was made, it would not solve the essence of the problem in Albanian democracy: the intention to distort the outcome of the elections and lack of commitment to organize a legitimate electoral process, based on laws and procedures in the books.

The next parliamentary elections were held on June 24, 2001, and were a key second test after the failure of 1996. Elections were held in a political atmosphere dominated by conflict. A government attempt to manipulate the results in favor of its candidates, using a legal vacuum that allowed candidates to be both party representatives and independents failed after an intervention by OSCE-ODIHR.

However, the government was able to change the results in a more sophisticated way, which stood in a legally grey area. The voting process was delayed in one hundred constituencies and in a single area. The ruling Socialist Party then instructed its members and supporters to vote for the allied parties, using the electoral system to produce more deputies for its coalition through strategic voting that distorted the true results of the elections. From that strategic voting, ten MPs were awarded to parties allied to the Socialist-led government. The Socialist Party managed to secure through such distorting efforts three fifths of seats in parliament, which enabled it to have the majority required to have the ability to elect the next president and all heads of independent institutions.

The Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha, in opposition, rejected the Socialists’ victory, which it saw as fabricated, and under international pressure, the Socialists were forced not to use the power of three-fifths they had in parliament. In 2002, the country’s new president was elected with the consent of the opposition, marking a rare example of consensus in Albanian politics.

The parliamentary elections of 2005 marked the first electoral process that enabled a normal transfer of power from the governing Socialist Party to the Democratic Party, which was able to return to power after eight years in opposition. There were again charges of rigging and violations of rules in the election process and procedures, but ultimately the election enabled the transfer of power from government to opposition. The Socialist Party, which had been in power for eight years, went into the elections divided. After internal clashes, a faction of the party led by former Prime Minister Ilir Meta (2001) split and created the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI). This division affected the results of the parliamentary elections of 2005, along with other factors related to bad governance and loss of public trust in the Socialist-led government.

The impact such rift had on the Socialists’ loss remains unknown. Many other hypothetical questions remain unanswered as to how parties would have behaved should the ultimate results not have been in favour of the opposition. However, the fact remains that the parliamentary elections of 2005 made ​​it possible for the first transfer of power from government to opposition through normal elections. Nevertheless, it remains questionable whether Albania’s parties had achieved political maturity, or whether the electoral process had ended the legacy of vote rigging, distrust and political conflict, which hurts the country’s wellbeing every time an elections cycle is completed.

The 2009 parliamentary elections marked the return of the dominant characteristic of the post-communist Albania: the rejection of the results and boycott of institutions. The opposition Socialist Party accused the government, controlled by the Democratic Party, of rigging the elections and demanded the opening of the ballot boxes so a recount could take place. The Socialist opposition protest radicalized through consistent boycott of parliament and other institutions for a long time and then a number of Socialists, including MPs, went on hunger strike in front of the prime minister's office. In April 2009, Albania had been a member of NATO for only four months, and its parliament was in shambles, boycotted by the parliamentary opposition. In addition to not recognizing the election results, the opposition had gone to the extreme of organizing a hunger strike to demand a recount. An angry Socialist opposition, continued its boycott of parliament for more than one year following the election. The election results did not actually give a governing majority to either of the two major parties. But the Democratic Party was able to create a governing majority coalition by inviting the Socialist Movement for Integration into the government. SMI had competed in the 2009 elections as an opposition party and asked for the support of voters to remove the Democratic Party from power and send Prime Minister Sali Berisha to "political retirement". But after the election, SMI votes were used to keep the Democrats and Berisha in power.

The parliamentary elections 2013 brought the Socialists to power. Edi Rama's Socialist Party managed to build a winning coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta and a few smaller satellite parties, many of which were previously unknown. These elections were very important for Socialist Party and seen as the last chance for Rama at the helm of the party after losing the 2009 elections and his seat as mayor of Tirana two years earlier after holding it for 11 years since 2004. Losing the elections would have effectively ended Rama’s political career, which experts saw as a key factor in him seeking an alliance with the SMI, giving the smaller ally a blank check in key areas of a future government. In addition, to win, Rama creating a huge coalition which included tiny parties and some led by people with shady pasts that would come to haunt him later during the governance period.

On the other hand, the SMI, which became a key factor in the large win for the Socialist-led coalition, decided it would break off with DP after ruling with it for four years, seeing at very hard for DP to get a third win in a row. The win for the coalition was strong, but the Socialist Party itself only managed to get 65 seats, which were insufficient to government alone.

Perhaps the most positive outcome of the elections was that the Democrats did not challenge their loss, and there was no major conflict over the results, despite some allegations of wrongdoings. As a result, the transfer of power was fast and calm, culminating with the resignation of perennial leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, from the leader’s position.

This material has been prepared by the Tirana Center for Journalistic Excellence. Please visit TCJE.org for more information.

 

[1] In addition to the Democratic Party, other opposition parties such as the Republican and Social-democratic parties had been founded.

[2] Albania was the last country in the former communist Eastern Europe to end its communist regime. By then, then the chances of keeping such regime going in Albania were nearly nonexistent.

[3] Democratic Party won 87 percent of seats in parliament, and together with its allies, the victory went to 93 percent, while the opposition held only 7 percent of the seats. This absolute domination of the political scene, however, was on shaky ground from the beginning.

[4] Elections were held under the presence of a military force mainly from EU member states, led by Italy, including Romania and Turkey. OSCE led international presence. From this year, the OSCE continued to maintain a presence in Albania. The international community continues to be involved in a significant degree in domestic politics and in particular in elections.
                    [post_title] => Albanian elections -- A story of disputed results and conflict
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Çela

On Sunday, June 25, Albanians will cast their ballots to decide the make-up and course of Albanian political landscape but also the fate of many ongoing key reform processes that the country is undergoing. This is the first electoral campaign without posters and flags that used to litter every street, road, town and village. The first time neighbors of different political convictions don’t have to fight over whose flag shadow projects on their balcony.

That is not the only novelty. For the first time in the relatively brief history of Albanian political pluralism, the two main opponents, the Socialist Party and Democratic Party have put aside a major part of their conflict and are pursuing a fierce attempt to decrease the influence of smaller parties. 

Therefore the electoral campaign is witnessing the most aggressive rhetoric not between the two traditional competitors but between the parties of the coalition that has been governing in the past four years. 

It is make-or-break time for small parties that have been decisive in forming ruling coalitions in the past. Depending on the electoral results, they risk losing their kingmaking power. Should they succeed, they will have cemented their presence in Albanian political decision-making for a long time. Alternatively, some of the third parties might shift their position acquiring unexpected clout.

Should the two traditional big parties choose to form a grand coalition after the elections, Albania will see a first-time development, an experiment never tried before and with the potential for many surprises. However, the possibility is still remote.

The electoral system is the same as last time, allowing for very little choice in the candidates pre--selected and ranked in the lists by the party leaders. 

According to an analysis from a political studies think tank, Albanian voters select between 25-30 MPs while the rest are safely projected in the parliament due to their position in the list. Should the electoral reform go ahead as promised after the elections and as part of the crisis-solving deal, parties will have to include the concerns expressed by a large number of experts that the current system is highly undemocratic.

Given the presence of the technocrat ministers chosen by the opposition in the current cabinet overseeing the electoral process, it is most likely that the result will not be contended, barring any major resistance from third parties. 

This, combined with some degree of progress achieved these weeks in the implementation of the justice reform, spells positive expectations about the assessment of the European Commission and potential likelihood for some good news about the opening of EU membership negotiations. 

However, any positive steps are heavily dependent on the situation inside the European Union as well.

The most important thing this upcoming Sunday is that the process goes calmly, without any violence, incidents and intimidation.  

Participation level according to the latest polls is expected to be satisfactory. The main result for all Albanian citizens is that their elections are free, fair, and peaceful to fulfill normal democracy standards. The rest is politics, it can be survived.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => The parliamentary elections that will be held this Sunday, June 25, 2017, are unique in Albania's recent history. They are the most unpredictable and the calmest since the fall of communism. They are also a paradox as elections go. And they are not necessarily the most democratic elections that have ever been held.

These unprecedented circumstances come because all of the three main parties looking to claim victory in the elections are already in the government managing the elections – the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama, the Democratic Party led by Lulzim Basha and the Socialist Movement for Integration now under the leadership of Petrit Vasili after its founding chairman, Ilir Meta, officially resigned to take the post of President of the Republic in July.

The Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration continue their coalition in the government, while on the campaign trail they are in a tough all-out race. In an unprecedented case, having lost the elections of 2013, the main opposition Democratic Party has gained representation in the government shortly before the elections.

Following the agreement between Prime Minister Rama and the opposition leader, Basha, the Socialists handed over some of the most important cabinet portfolios – those of justice, healthcare, education, social affairs as well as the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance and the post of Deputy Prime Minister. All of these are now managed by caretaker technocrats proposed by the opposition.

Unlike the 2013 elections, political parties are running alone, not in coalitions, a move that can bring serious implications for the Socialist Movement for Integration and smaller parties in the race, including newcomers looking to gain on the protest vote – Libra led by Ben Blushi on the left and Sfida led by Gjergj Bojaxhi on the right.

However, these particulars involved and lack of formal coalitions are not the only novelty in the June 25 elections.

First, the campaign has been the calmest ever, and the voting day is likely to be the same way. However, getting here was not easy. Just a little over a month before the elections the country was headed toward a major crisis that had a major destabilization potential. For more than three months, the main opposition Democratic Party had held a nonstop public protest in front of the Prime Minister's Office, demanding the government's resignation and the creation of a caretaker government staffed by technocrats. The opposition accused the government of planning to use crime money from cannabis cultivation and trafficking to buy the elections. The opposition transformed its protest into a forum where citizens were invited to vent their issues with the Socialist-led government.

Regrettably, the political elite in Albania once again demonstrated the lack of will and capacity to resolve disputes domestically, repeating the same political culture of addiction to international mediation. To solve the political crisis in Albania, the European Union and the United States committed to mediate.

The country was very close to the brink of having an election without the opposition's participation, a never-before-seen negative move. The government and the opposition were far from finding a solution, when the European Union, through an open letter to the Albanian people, seemed to give the green light to the government to hold the election without the opposition's participation, a decision that did not seem to have the support of the United States, the other international mediator.

Holding elections without the opposition's participation would have resulted in a parliament dominated by the ruling Socialist Party and its, until recently, ally, the Socialist Movement for Integration – as well as a few satellite parties and powerless anti-system newcomers as opposition. It would not have been viable as a long-term parliament and the Socialist Party leader and Prime Minister Rama admitted it.

Third, the SP and DP, the two parties that have dominated the political scene in Albania during the last quarter of the century, after the establishment of pluralism in 1990, entered into these elections after an agreement between their two leaders, Prime Minister Edi Rama and Democratic Party Chairman Lulzim Basha. Not all the details of this agreement have been made public.

The agreement came when all of those involved in the negotiations had lost hope -- including the international mediators involved in the Albanian political crisis. However, the prime minister and the opposition chief met alone and came up with a political solution to give key ministries to technocrats proposed by the opposition. The main tasks of these caretaker ministers was to make sure the state resources were not used to favor the parties in power since 2013.

At first glance the agreement seems like a grand coalition, but local experts note that it only seems that way. It remains to be seen what will happen after the elections – whether SP and DP will continue to split power after the elections if neither is able to secure a ruling majority on its own – in other words getting 71 seats in a parliament made up of 140 lawmakers.

Fourthly, the SMI is entering these elections outside a leftist coalition and will have the opportunity to test its power in an electoral system that does not favor third and small parties, but also in an environment that is hostile to SMI after the end of the ruling coalition with the SP.

SP, and especially Prime Minister Rama, tried hard to keep the same coalition as four years ago, even by presenting this coalition as strategic and important to the European country's future. However, there have been ongoing tensions between the two ruling parties, and the coalition has often been on the brink of breakup.

After the deal between the two largest parties, SP and DP, the SMI finds itself alone and being blamed for all the ills of the government in which it was a junior partner. It faces charges of creating a state administration that is based on the basis of clientele and nepotism to maximize voter acquisition for the party through giving away jobs, licenses and favors.

The SP and SMI conflict now involves all the top leaders, including Prime Minister Rama and Speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta, who is also the president-elect and is expected to become head of state on July 24.

Fifth, the main opposition Democratic Party and its small satellite parties, which are running candidates inside the list of the DP, are focused primarily on the economic issues, giving proposal on revitalizing the economy and lower unemployment.

On the other hand, the Socialist Party is primarily concerned on “building the state” a rule-of-law platform that urges the voters to have Prime Minister Rama rule alone to be free to implement his program.

Sixth, the opposition Democratic Party enters into this race for the first time without its historic leader, Sali Berisha, who resigned after losing the 2013 general elections. DP is being led by a new leader, Lulzim Basha, who has held several key posts since 2005, including as Minister of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He then served as Mayor of Tirana for one term. Although it is clear that Berisha continues to be active in the party he led for more than two decades, he is not leading the campaign and as such the results will be a strong test for the new leader. A loss of the election by the opposition would undermine the positions of the new leader, Basha, who was chosen and entrusted with the leadership mostly thanks to Berisha's support.

Seventh, the country is entering the elections after the incumbent parliament approved a major reform of the justice system and how these elections will be held, including the outcome, will determine the implementation of the reform. How the justice reform is implemented and how governance goes after the elections will also set the stage on whether there will be progress in Albania's EU membership bid and the country's stability as a whole.

This analysis has been produced by the Tirana Center for Journalistic Excellence. Visit TCJE.org for more information. 

 
                    [post_title] => Elections 2017: What's at stake? Seven things to keep in mind as Albanians head to the polls 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 23 – Albania's voters are heading to polling centers across the country this Sunday to choose their next representatives to parliament and decide who will lead the country's government for the next four years.

While voters are choosing 140 lawmakers, under Albania's opaque closed-list regional proportional system, they are also voting to elect the country's new prime minister as leader of the party that wins the most votes.

The opinion polls and previous elections show the race to win is among the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama, the Democratic Party led by Lulzim Basha and the Socialist Movement for Integration now under the leadership of Petrit Vasili after its founding chairman, Ilir Meta, officially resigned to take the post of President of the Republic in July.

Each party is looking to get at least 71 seats in the 140-seat parliament if it hopes to govern alone. If fewer seats are gained, a coalition government with a kingmaker will be needed, as has been the case in the past eight years, with SMI becoming partners first with DP and then with SP.

A grand coalition between SP and DP to sideline SMI and smaller parties, once thought impossible, is now a real possibility, political analysts note, following a recent agreement on a pre-electoral caretaker government and calmer climate between the two parties.

Smaller parties like the PDIU of the Cham community – and newcomers looking to gain on the protest vote – Libra led by Ben Blushi on the left and Sfida led by Gjergj Bojaxhi on the right – could also make it to parliament, even-though the system is set up to penalize small parties and help larger ones by setting up a huge barrier to entry in parliament.

To remedy the situation, the main opposition Democratic Party is having candidates of small satellite parties running in its own list to help them be elected and unify the vote.

On the campaign trail much of the debate has been about economic issues, which according to an opinion poll released this week by the Albanian Institute for International Studies are the most important issues for Albanian voters.

The ruling Socialist Party is promising 220,000 new jobs and saying it will not raise taxes any higher. It has also asked voters to allow it to continue to “build the state” – its rule-of-law platform that promises tough punishments on citizens and businesses to make sure the country's laws are implemented.

The main opposition Democratic Party is promising massive tax cuts and a return to a flat tax. It wants to lower the Value Added Tax from 20 to 15 percent and lower income and business taxes to 9 percent from the current 15 percent.

Economic experts have repeatedly said many of the promises being made on the campaign trail are unrealistic. The Socialist-led government has already failed in its 300,000 new jobs promise in the 2013 elections. It also promised to remove the VAT on basic foods back then, with Prime Minister Rama admitting he could not do it because the cost to the budget would be too high.

Unlike previous elections, the campaign has largely been calm and with only isolated incidents, and the parties have spent less than usual on flags and posters thanks to an agreement between the two largest parties ahead of the elections.

It is the same agreement the produced a semi-caretaker government with key ministerial posts going to technocrats proposed by the opposition with the aim of making sure the elections are free and fair and that no state resources are allowed to influence them in favor of the ruling parties.

Voters will choose representatives proportionally in Albania's 12 counties, with Tirana holding the lion's share of seats in parliament thanks to its higher population. Fier, Elbasan, Durres, Korce, Vlore, Shkoder, Berat, Lezhe, Diber, Gjirokaster and Kukes follow as the regions that will choose the lawmaker lists.

Only Albanian citizens that are over 18 and present in Albania on the day of the vote can participate. With nearly half of Albania's citizens residing in other countries, the turnout by default is likely to be low.

Stay tuned with Tirana Times' online edition, TiranaTimes.com, for updates on the election results.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Albanians head to polling stations to elect new prime minister
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                    [post_content] => The coalition between the Socialist Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration always felt like a forced deal, an unnatural development, an obnoxious handshake. In the entirety of its four years both sides blackmailed, pressured and bothered each other. They did not have good words for their performance, they were quick to assign blame in case things went wrong, they behaved as if they were two separate spouses in a house each accusing each other for the bleak state of their families. They never took responsibility for co-governing, they never spared one occasion to throw jabs.

The SMI, smaller but decisive in its kingmaker position, was particularly aggressive in this game but the SP also looked constantly to sabotage their junior partner. At the base level, where party activists are still in the jungle survival game for jobs, tenders and favors, this kind of conflict often got ugly. In the last months before elections, when the political crisis with the official opposition reached an apex and especially after the difficult deal was reached with the DP, this coalition of the unwilling started to unravel. This split comes as a relief to many and to some others as a big gamble by the SP which risks being in the same position as in 2009, if its calculations don’t hold up.

The current campaign is exposing the rotten flesh and suffocating smell of this alliance gone wrong. Citizens watch, some in disbelief and some in disgust, how sides that govern together and reach deals together and are quick to lure everyone when it fits their purpose are now dismantling all the nasty rhetoric and battling with under the belt punches. The rightful cynics look away thinking it’s just a shameful artificial act and the parties shall make up again if they need to.

One should be careful to lament the decline of third and small parties. Smaller parties in Albania have often failed to bring vibrancy to democracy and accountability to governance, they have most often be caught up in the game of power, trying to force their hand when they could and sneak into coalitions to guarantee their survival. If indeed these new developments get rid of the leeches in the Albanian political system, then it is good to root for it.

On the other hand, if all third parties are reduced to almost zero influence, authoritarianism in Albania, be that in the kind of a two party system, can spike up in a hazardous way. The deal between the two key parties in the country right now looks really attractive, a national rallying behind noble objectives, the letting go of old hatred and conflict. However, if the two major parties have agreed that they shall go unchecked since they can always support each other enough while waiting for their turn to reign, then dark days are coming.

Eventually many of the answers shall be clearer after June 25. Let’s just hope the cynics are not right this time and we are not forced to see another nauseating ‘kiss and make up’ episode of the never ending political soap opera.

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: The unraveling of an ugly alliance
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 14 – President-elect Ilir Meta has issued a warning to the country's two largest parties not to engage in vote rigging if they want to lead the next government.

"I will not decree as prime minister or minister any politician who will try to manipulate the election," Meta said.

Meta, who recently stepped down as leader of Albania's third largest party, the Socialist Movement for Integration, has fired back at the ruling Socialist Party of Edi Rama and the main opposition Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha, who have launched coordinated attacks against SMI, which they say has had power disproportionate to its votes thanks to serving as kingmaker in two coalition governments.

On the campaign trail for SMI, Meta said state resources are being abused to manipulate and intimidate SMI voters, thanks to an agreement between the Socialists and Democrats, which agreed to allow the opposition to nominate several caretaker ministers to key posts for the month ahead of the election to a guarantee free and fair process.

"The SP-DP alliance is an alliance of darkness that is abusing power to the detriment of citizens' interests," Meta said.

The two larger parties have made no secret of the fact that they would like to see SMI squeezed out power.

Campaign in full swing

Meta's comments came as the campaigns for the general elections of June 25 is in full swing across Albania with daily meetings and rallies.

Socialist Prime Minister Rama is holding visits and inaugurations of public investments, asking voters to keep him in office through a full majority so he can finish what he has started in the first four years in power.

The opposition has pointed out to unfulfilled promises from the SP-SMI coalition government, and offering an alternative of lower taxes. Opposition leader Basha has held meetings in both urban and rural areas, promising a state that is softer on the powerless.

Unlike previous elections, parties are running alone in these elections. There are no grand coalitions.

In addition to the traditional parties, two anti-establishment parties are also seeking votes and registering in polls as making it into the parliament after the elections. They include the far-left Libra Party of Ben Blushi and the center-right Sfida Party led by Gjergj Bojaxhi.

CEC concerned by lack of volunteers

On the technical side of election preparations, the Central Elections Commission has warned that it might not have enough commissioners to hold smoother elections as commissioners and other volunteers in the electoral process are boycotting trainings because of they are afraid to lose their public sector jobs.

Several people involved in the campaign have been fired by caretaker ministers mandated to make sure no state resources are used by political parties.

 

 
                    [post_title] => As SP, DP try to squeeze out SMI, harsh rhetoric makes campaign comeback   
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_125461" align="alignright" width="300"]Albania's Constitutional Court in a recent session. (Photo: Archives) Albania's Constitutional Court in a recent session. (Photo: Archives)[/caption]

TIRANA, June 13 - Albania’s justice reform must go on despite a motion by two judges’ unions to the Constitutional Court to void certain aspects of the vetting process, say political leaders, civil society organizations and foreign diplomats.

The leaders of Albania’s three largest three largest political parties recently reiterated their support of the judicial reform they voted in parliament.

Representatives of the United States and the European Union in Tirana also issued strong statements saying the reform must not be stopped or watered down.

Earlier this month, two groups representing judges in Albania have asked the country’s highest court to void certain aspects of the justice reform vetting process, which aims to rid the system of corrupt judges and prosecutors.

Albania’s National Association of Judges and the Union of Judges have filed a joint motion at the Constitutional Court seeking to void aspects of two laws of the justice reform, including the much-debated vetting law. Their chief complaint is that the vetting process would go too far based on weak evidence and testimony.

US, EU call justice reform implementation

U.S. diplomats in Albania, who have been among the strongest backers of the reform, issued a statement Monday saying “the Albanian people should be concerned about attempts to weaken the reform to protect corrupt judges and prosecutors, including those with ties to organized crime.”

The U.S. embassy said in a statement that the vetting must be strong and meaningful because key anti-corruption components of the reform are dependent upon having honest judges and prosecutors.

The embassy said it urged the Constitutional Court to review complaints in an open and transparent manner, while relying on Venice Commission recommendations.

“We applaud the Albanian people, civil society, and independent media who continue to stand watch so corrupt people do not steal their democracy,” the statement added.

EU member states embassies and the EU Delegation in Tirana also issued a statement to call on all relevant authorities to adhere to their full commitment to the implementation of the justice reform, which was unanimously voted in the Albanian parliament.

“Vetting of judges and prosecutors, as envisaged in the legislation that has already been reviewed both by the Venice Commission and the Constitutional Court of Albania, needs to start,” the EU statement noted, adding that “credible and tangible progress on all five key priorities, the implementation of the Justice Reform, and in particular the vetting, are essential for the opening of accession negotiations with Albania.”

Civil society coalition expresses concern

Earlier, a group of 20 civil society organizations, the Justice for All Coalition, said it was concerned about the Constitutional Court request by the two judges’ associations.

“Our main concern is not related to the content of these provisions, as we are more than convinced that they reflect and observe the international standards for a fair, professional, accountable and independent judiciary, but because this request is the next deliberate attempt to delay the vetting process at its very core, by reducing the quality of such a vital process for the Albanian society,” a coalition media statement said. “The request aims at taking away from the vetting commission -- yet to be established -- ‘the ability of deciding on the totality of evidence,’ and in our judgement, this would harm the vetting process.”

The coalition added that it asks the Constitutional Court to ensure the required level of transparency in the entire constitutional process of reviewing these claims, and “understand that even in their last breath, the corrupt and incompetent judges still pose a risk to undermine the achievements of the justice reform so far.”

In their request to the Constitutional Court, the two judges associations seek to void some provisions regulating the vetting process of judges and prosecutors in terms of their potential links to organized crime. They want a shorter timeframe for the scrutiny and firmer evidence to be used.

A provision of the law that is challenged by associations as unconstitutional relates to the defining contacts between judges and prosecutors and people associated with organized crime. They note that the evidence that can be used in the vetting process is not enough to prove association under the country’s constitution.

The filing was made on June 1, but it was only made public a week later after journalists dug it up, leading local media to interpret it as “a secret motion.”

The justice reform, which was approved in full only last month, is seen as key to Albania’s progress toward EU integration, as graft in the judiciary is one of the largest problems the country has faced during its post-communist transition.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Justice reform must be implemented despite renewed resistance from judges, urge US, EU, NGOs
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132807" align="alignright" width="300"]sheshi Photo: Tirana Municipality[/caption]

TIRANA, June 12 - Tirana's landmark Skanderbeg square has been given a facelift under a €13 million government-funded project that has completely transformed the most important public space linked to a number of historical events and manifestations from King Zog’s reign until WWII to the communist takeover and the early 1990s protests for democratic changes.

Designed by a Belgian studio, the square is an old project dating back ten years ago when current Prime Minister Edi Rama was Mayor of Tirana.

The new square named after the country's 15th century national hero is 90,000m2 space, of which 28,000m2 in stone collected from Albanian-speaking territories and another 32,000m2 of trees, bushes and decorative flowers. The square also showcases some 100 water fountains in its stone area, serving as an oasis in hot summer days. An underground parking lot with a capacity of 358 cars has also been made available to somehow settle the capital’s parking stress.

Built in 10 months, the square’s inauguration comes amid the peak campaign for the upcoming June 25 general elections when the ruling Socialist Party is seeking a second consecutive term.

Speaking at a grand festive inauguration ceremony last weekend, Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj said the square which he described a symbol of unity is now the Balkans's largest pedestrian area.

"There is 28,000 m2 paved in stone from every country inhabited by Albanians and 32,000 m2 of oasis and urban forests with plants from every region Albanian live. The project's final stage will include 90,000m2 of pedestrian area serving citizens and events by making it the Balkans' largest pedestrian area," said Veliaj.

Thousands gathered for the square’s inauguration ceremony last weekend in an event featuring firework displays as well as traditional songs and dances by Albanians of Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and the Albanian Diaspora around the world.

"I am confident the Skanderbeg square will be one of the main destinations of Tirana residents, our Albanian brothers and sisters in the whole region and the Diaspora and rising number of tourists visiting Tirana," added the Socialist Party mayor.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, who was Tirana’s mayor for eleven years until 2011 said the square belonged to all Albanians who came to Tirana to find the ‘Little America’ and is “the square of Albania's national and European identity.”

"This square is a space with the most ideal microclimate that we can find in Albania's urban spaces and we will enjoy this all day and night long because it’s a square that stands on water and water flows to always stabilize ideal temperature," said Rama.

The project is part of a so-called urban Renaissance project the Socialist Party and Prime Minister Rama have promoted in dozens of Albanian towns, giving a facelift to city centers all around the country.

The opposition Democratic Party says the government spent Euro 400 million in the past four years on reconstructing squares around the country, an amount that could be used to create thousands of jobs and open up dozens of new hospitals and schools.

The new square has received criticism for its large area of stone and not preserving the identity of Tirana. The Skanderbeg monument has however remained in its original place.

The landmark monument was placed in the city center in 1968 on the 500th death anniversary of Skanderbeg, the national hero who successfully ousted the Ottomans for more than two decades and served as an inspiration for the Renaissance movement leading to the country's independence in the early 20th century.

Tirana is a 400-year-old town that has been the country's capital city since 1920 when its population was at only more than a dozen thousand compared to a present day 800,000.

Tirana was established in 1614 by Sulejman Pasha from the village of Mullet who first build a mosque, a bakery and a Turkish sauna. However, the capital outskirts boast settlements and archeological heritage dating back to ancient times.

In addition to the communist legacy for more almost five decades until the early 1990s, Tirana and many Albanian cities also owe much to Italian 20th century architecture.

Italian architects designed major public buildings and squares in Albania from 1925 to 1943. In Tirana, Italian planners and architects designed the main square named after the national hero Skanderbeg, the central boulevard, the ministry buildings, the national bank and the town hall.

The communist regime has also left its mark with several Socialist Realism and former Soviet Union style architecture buildings.

"The oppressing monumentality of the communist constructions is countered by the shape of the square; a large, low pyramid. Standing on top of this pyramid, one is no longer overpowered by the architecture of the past. This subtle intervention acknowledges Albania's past and gives it a new perspective as well," says Brussels-based architecture firm 51N4E that designed the Skanderbeg square reconstruction project.
                    [post_title] => Tirana’s landmark Skanderbeg square gets facelift ahead of elections
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                    [post_content] => By ALBERT RAKIPI

[caption id="attachment_130553" align="alignright" width="225"]Albert Rakipi, PhD Albert Rakipi, PhD[/caption]

It is understandable that in a small country like Albania foreign policy is not going to get much attention on the campaign trail. That's even more the case in a small country that is poor, has frighteningly high unemployment and has a state system that is so weak it cannot guarantee its citizens the basics of quality in services like infrastructure, healthcare, education and justice. These take priority, and so foreign policy has to take a back seat.

The political context has changed too. In the early days of Albania's transition, foreign policy was seen as a strategic choice in state formation to focus the economy on creating ties with the West. Albania had to leave behind its isolation forced from a system that had placed surreal barriers on relations with the world.

Now that country has solid relations with the West, the major challenge is the creation of a proper functioning economy and the creation of a fully democratic society. A successful foreign policy that is stable gives its positive results only when internal policies are also successful, as a rule of thumb.

Less than a month ahead of the election, the 25-year-old tradition of conflict and division continues. Albania's political class also continues to show it is dependent on and has a frightening inferiority complex toward the international community. So what kind of foreign policy can there be under these circumstances?

The above mentioned factors make foreign policy issues unattractive for political parties on the campaign trail. Structured foreign policy programs are nowhere to be seen in electoral discussions. Instead there are promises – all tied to getting more jobs and more perks – and mostly unrealistic, according to experts.

Even though there is an absence in discussions, foreign policy, especially in dealing with regional issues, does make an appearance in the official programs of political parties in Albania.

The current situation comes as a contrast at how the government has acted in the past four years, launching Albania as a global giant that can play on issues like the future of trans-Atlantic relations, the crisis in South Asia, North Korea's nuclear program – and issues like relations between Russia, the US and the EU. Back to reality in the electoral campaign, Albanian parties are of course staying away from these grander global issues.

That might be a good thing, but parties that are hoping to rule the country for the next four years should indeed focus on certain foreign policy issues which relate to the basic interests of Albania, its democratic rule, regional security and stability. These are issues that do affect Albanian voters and Albania.

For example, let's look at Albania's relations with Greece. There has been for the past four years a status quo of relations with this very important country for Albania. A populist approach has done much harm to these relations and stopped their improvement.

When it comes to relations with Greece, Tirana has had an amateur approach to foreign policy, with its diplomacy showing arrogance and often ignorance of proper foreign affairs -- intertwined with a populist approach that has resulted in an ongoing conflictual relations.

In the past four years, leaders have been beating their drums on relations with Kosovo too, however, the real result is seen in the low level of economic relations between the two countries. The populist approach has again hurt the proper development of relations as two sovereign countries.

This is made worse by a paternalistic approach by Tirana on Prishtina, something that saw a lot of resistance by the Kosovo government and its political elite.

Relations with Macedonia too ended up nearly frozen, again due to to a populist and paternalistic approach by Tirana's foreign policy chiefs, including the famous cooking up of “the Albanian platform” in Tirana, giving the agreement among ethnic Albanian political parties the hue that it was done from the outside rather than being an organic deal for the betterment of that community and Macedonia as whole. Moreover, the agreement said nothing more than is already spelled out in the Ohrid Agreement.

Relations with Serbia, despite growing dialogue between the two prime ministers, failed to be channeled into a normal, stable and long-term foundation. Exchanges between the two countries remain weak, especially when it comes to the economy.

Moreover, Albania’s approach to reconciliation between Albanian and Serbs in the region lacks proper foundation and it cannot be done because it is not accepted from Kosovo, the government of which made it clear that Albania cannot discuss issues relating to Kosovo with Serbia on behalf of Kosovo. Serbia and Kosovo can discuss bilateral issues as two sovereign states. The government of Kosovo has been clear that reconciliation of Albanians and Serbs goes through Prishtina, not Tirana.

All these issues could and should have been part of the campaign, but in the absence of a coherent and beneficial approach, the drums of populism continue to beat.

The PDIU party is the sole nationalist element in the campaign after the Red and Black alliance folded out of the race. PDIU is speaking about uniting all Albanian lands, selling a lie to voters with the hope of getting more votes. This party, which represents primarily the Cham community, is the only still focusing on the national issue, speaking about it as if 100 years have not gone by. While the rhetoric is there, there is an absence of a serious foreign policy approach about making its promises happen. Even the Cham issue is spoken as a myth, rather than finding a real solution for the community.

And the cherry on the cake is Tirana's renovated Skanderbeg square, which opens this weekend following a multimillion-euro reconstruction. It includes stones from all areas of the region where ethnic Albanians live, including the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia and Filat in northern Greece, under the idea that Tirana is the capital of the Albanian nation. This is populism at its best. Presevo's capital is Belgrade. Filat's is Athens – also the capital of Albania' NATO ally, Greece. And Tirana is not the capital of Kosovo, it's Prishtina.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Editorial: Why foreign policy is missing from Albania's electoral campaign
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                    [post_content] => By Rudina Hoxha

On the occasion of his country’s National Day, Sweden’s Ambassador to Albania, Johan Ndisi, underlined in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times that Sweden hopes that the forthcoming elections will, as far as possible, adhere to international standards. “We also welcome that the work with the justice reform has resumed, as this will be key for Albania’s further EU-integration process,” he said. 

He also said that this autumn, Sweden will begin a new programme supporting the justice sector, focusing on the improvement of juvenile justice in Albania. 

Ndisi said that a group of Swedish businessmen are participating in an Investment Council to the Albanian government, co-chaired by Prime Minister Rama and former Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson. “I hope to see the trade between Sweden and Albania continuing to grow,” he said.

 

On the National Day of Sweden, please how do you see the bilateral relations between Albania and Sweden? What motivates them most?

[caption id="attachment_132791" align="alignright" width="200"]Sweden's Ambassador to Albania Johan Ndisi Sweden's Ambassador to Albania Johan Ndisi[/caption]

Sweden and Albania enjoy excellent bilateral relations. Sweden is a firm supporter of Albania’s EU-integration process, both in terms of political support and support through our development cooperation with Albania. This was also expressed by our Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom who recently visited the country. Our appointment of a resident Ambassador to Albania last year is another sign of our strengthening bilateral relations. There is also an increasing number of Swedes discovering Albania as a tourist destination. In terms of economic relations, a group of Swedish businessmen are participating in an Investment Council to the Albanian government, co-chaired by Prime Minister Rama and former Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson. I hope to see the trade between Sweden and Albania continuing to grow.

 

In which Albanian sector, is Sweden playing a crucial role?

Our support to Albania is mainly focused in three areas: economic development; democracy and human rights; and environmental protection. I would like to highlight our support to a cleaner environment and sustainable development – around 1/3 of our development cooperation with Albania. This week, Sweden is co-hosting the Oceans Conference together with Fiji, to promote the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources. This is very relevant for Albania, with its more than 350 long coastline for citizens to enjoy and as a source of livelihood and tourism. Among other things, we support the Ministry of Agriculture in developing a strategy with a focus on water resources. This autumn, we are planning support to Albania's preparations for EU-negotiations within environment. This is important for increasing Albania's capacity to take on all the challenges relating to meeting EU-standards.

 

How has Sweden perceived the last political developments in Albania? Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs visited Albania at the climax of political crisis.

The Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs visited Albania before the agreement made between the government and the opposition on 18 May. During her visit, she expressed Sweden’s support to the EU-integration process. She also stated that the Albanian citizens deserve free and fair elections, conducted with the participation of the opposition. We hope that the forthcoming elections will, as far as possible, adhere to international standards. We also welcome that the work with the justice reform has resumed, as this will be key for Albania’s further EU-integration process.

 

Sweden is one of the largest donors of Albania, 8 million euros every year. How is this assistance being used by Albania? Is this amount monitored properly?

Sweden is a main partner of Albania in supporting the country's reform agenda. This includes for example support to better statistics, better management of public funds, as well as strengthening community policing. This autumn, we will begin a new programme supporting the justice sector, focusing on the improvement of juvenile justice in Albania. At the local level, we have supported the territorial and administrative reform. We have shared a lot of our experiences in how we in Sweden have tackled challenges in local governance, which we hope can be useful in Albanian reforms. Moreover, we see strengthening of civil society here in Albania as one of our core tasks. To this end, we support a number of CSO’s working in areas such as gender-equality, democratic participation and environmental protection. Our assistance is monitored through field visits, scrutinizing of reports, discussions with partners and controllers, as well as external evaluations, in accordance with Swedish rules for monitoring of contributions.

 

Sweden is leading innovations but not very much present in mobilizing the Albanian youngsters, eager in startups. Please why? What's the Swedish way about the innovation?

Sweden is a leading country for innovation globally. Reasons for this include a historic tradition of inventors, a commitment to gender equality, and a strong belief in the individual. Close collaboration between research institutes and the private and public sectors is another key factor. In fact, Sweden invests more than 3 % of GDP in research and development annually. I hope to see increased focus and funds dedicated to research and innovation in Albania, as I believe this is crucial for Albania’s future economic development. Sweden is currently working together with USAID to promote sustainable tourism, through support to organisations and small and medium sized businesses, and within this program there is a specific focus on youth and women. But There is certainly room for an increased focus on youth in the future.

 

Many Albanians are biking today. Maybe they have seen you everywhere with a nice bike:)

During my time as ambassador here in Albania, I am trying to visit as many parts of the country as possible by bike. This is a very good way to see the country, to visit projects supported by Sweden, and to speak to Albanian citizens and youth. The benefits of biking are many – it contributes to less pollution, a cleaner environment and a healthier lifestyle. Therefore I am very glad to see an increasing number of Albanians biking.

 
                    [post_title] => Johan Ndisi: ‘We hope elections adhere to international standards'
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            [post_content] => The following is a historical look at Albanian elections and an analysis of the parties in the current race, their programs, ambitions and coalitions, as well as some background information about the political and economic context in which these elections take place.

Albania has a short and poor history of operating under a multiparty political system, one that provides several alternative parties and candidates on which voters then decide through elections. Albania’s first experiment in democracy, back in the 192os and 1930s, was short lived. It ended tragically with the establishment of the communist regime after World War II. In December 1945, the communist regime organized the first parliamentary elections after coming to power. They were the first and last nominally pluralistic elections held by the communists. Immediately after the elections, the communist regime launched a campaign of terror against the liberal opposition that had begun to emerge. A number of opposition candidates who ran in the 1945 election were arrested and severely persecuted. After that, the parliamentary elections in Albania were simply a charade. While elections took place every four years, voters had no alternatives from which to choose. They were rubber-stamp elections for a rubber-stamp parliament, since the creation of political parties or organizations other than the Communist Party (later renamed the Labour Party) was banned by the constitution. The so-called elections were always won by Democratic Front candidates, an organization set up by the Communist Party, and they were won with results that consistently went to up to 99.99 percent. Turnout was also 99.99 percent, if not 100 percent. Non-participation in elections was considered treason to the Communist Party and the country and it came with harsh penalties such as imprisonment, political internment and loss of right to vote in the future.

With this dark legacy, Albania held its first pluralistic election on March 31, 1991, after nearly a half century of communist dictatorship. For the first time, there was a true opposition party in the race. The Democratic Party had been founded in December 1990, following a pro-democracy movement led by students at the University of Tirana. That first electoral process was conducted in an atmosphere of chaos, intimidation and violence. The opposition won a clear victory in the big cities, however, failed to win the election in the rest of the country. The case of the 1991 election was, among other things, an example of the opposition (the Democratic Party at that time) not competing with just the party in power -- the Communists of the Labour Party -- but with the entire state apparatus with its bureaucracy, resources -- human and material -- including instruments and institutions of violence and terror, such as the secret police, which were still very much feared at the time.

The use of all the state’s power in the 1991 election, including instruments of violence as well as propaganda (primarily through the public information institutions like the Albanian Radio Television) continued what had been common practice during the fake election processes held under the communist regime. But unlike previous elections, in the first multiparty election of March 31, 1991, the state and its institutions were used against a real political opposition. Unfortunately, such practice of using state resources against the opposition continued to be present in all future democratic elections. The circumstances and dynamics were different, but the practice of using the state’s power and resources to favor of the ruling party has been a continuous feature in all Albanian elections.

 On March 22, 1992, parliamentary elections were organized by a caretaker government, following the resignation of the last communist-led government in May 1991. The polls brought to power the non-communist opposition, represented by the Democratic Party[1]. These 1992 parliamentary elections entered into Albania's post-communist history as one of the few processes where the losing side did not contest the results. However, it is difficult for these elections to be seen as normal and a pure case of an uncontested process, because these elections did not simply mark a change in government, they marked a change in regime, one that had completely lost its legitimacy[2].

On May 26, 1996, Albania held the next parliamentary election. The race marked the first confrontation between the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Socialist Party, a rebranded and reformed Labour Party. In many respects, these elections were seen as a real test of the ability of Albania’s fragile democracy to function. The process was a failure. The Socialist Party and its smaller allies abandoned the election, saying the process had been rigged. What could have been a normal victory for the Democratic Party became a charade after government candidates "won" almost all constituencies[3]. The Socialist opposition disowned the results of these elections and boycotted parliament and other institutions. Within a few months, the country was engulfed by anarchy, following the collapse of pyramid schemes that accompanied the failure of the electoral process. These Ponzi investment schemes took away the savings of most of the country’s citizens, leading to riots and rebellion. The 1997 crisis, the worst in the modern history of Albania, led to the entire collapse of the state. This crisis was not just associated with the failure of pyramid schemes, it also had roots in the failure of the political elite to organize proper parliamentary elections.

Slightly more than a year after the election of 1996, the country went to the polls again in early elections, which were held during a grave period for Albania, and with the presence of a multinational military force, which was called in to maintain law and order.

The elections of June 29, 1997 were held under a climate of tension in which there was lack of state control over large parts of the territory, lack of security, and an inability of candidates to go to almost half of Albania depending on the party they represented. As such, more than an election, the polls were an institutional effort to find a solution for the crisis in Albania. The elections were won by the Socialist Party and its allies. For a time, President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, in opposition, did not recognize the electoral process as free and fair. Just as the Socialists had boycotted parliament after the elections of 1996, the Democrats boycotted parliament after the 1997 polls.

By this time, a dominant feature of post-communist Albania had appeared: a trend in which the election results are contested by the losers who then boycott institutions, creating a crisis that demands the involvement of the international community.[4] In the future, even if any progress was made, it would not solve the essence of the problem in Albanian democracy: the intention to distort the outcome of the elections and lack of commitment to organize a legitimate electoral process, based on laws and procedures in the books.

The next parliamentary elections were held on June 24, 2001, and were a key second test after the failure of 1996. Elections were held in a political atmosphere dominated by conflict. A government attempt to manipulate the results in favor of its candidates, using a legal vacuum that allowed candidates to be both party representatives and independents failed after an intervention by OSCE-ODIHR.

However, the government was able to change the results in a more sophisticated way, which stood in a legally grey area. The voting process was delayed in one hundred constituencies and in a single area. The ruling Socialist Party then instructed its members and supporters to vote for the allied parties, using the electoral system to produce more deputies for its coalition through strategic voting that distorted the true results of the elections. From that strategic voting, ten MPs were awarded to parties allied to the Socialist-led government. The Socialist Party managed to secure through such distorting efforts three fifths of seats in parliament, which enabled it to have the majority required to have the ability to elect the next president and all heads of independent institutions.

The Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha, in opposition, rejected the Socialists’ victory, which it saw as fabricated, and under international pressure, the Socialists were forced not to use the power of three-fifths they had in parliament. In 2002, the country’s new president was elected with the consent of the opposition, marking a rare example of consensus in Albanian politics.

The parliamentary elections of 2005 marked the first electoral process that enabled a normal transfer of power from the governing Socialist Party to the Democratic Party, which was able to return to power after eight years in opposition. There were again charges of rigging and violations of rules in the election process and procedures, but ultimately the election enabled the transfer of power from government to opposition. The Socialist Party, which had been in power for eight years, went into the elections divided. After internal clashes, a faction of the party led by former Prime Minister Ilir Meta (2001) split and created the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI). This division affected the results of the parliamentary elections of 2005, along with other factors related to bad governance and loss of public trust in the Socialist-led government.

The impact such rift had on the Socialists’ loss remains unknown. Many other hypothetical questions remain unanswered as to how parties would have behaved should the ultimate results not have been in favour of the opposition. However, the fact remains that the parliamentary elections of 2005 made ​​it possible for the first transfer of power from government to opposition through normal elections. Nevertheless, it remains questionable whether Albania’s parties had achieved political maturity, or whether the electoral process had ended the legacy of vote rigging, distrust and political conflict, which hurts the country’s wellbeing every time an elections cycle is completed.

The 2009 parliamentary elections marked the return of the dominant characteristic of the post-communist Albania: the rejection of the results and boycott of institutions. The opposition Socialist Party accused the government, controlled by the Democratic Party, of rigging the elections and demanded the opening of the ballot boxes so a recount could take place. The Socialist opposition protest radicalized through consistent boycott of parliament and other institutions for a long time and then a number of Socialists, including MPs, went on hunger strike in front of the prime minister's office. In April 2009, Albania had been a member of NATO for only four months, and its parliament was in shambles, boycotted by the parliamentary opposition. In addition to not recognizing the election results, the opposition had gone to the extreme of organizing a hunger strike to demand a recount. An angry Socialist opposition, continued its boycott of parliament for more than one year following the election. The election results did not actually give a governing majority to either of the two major parties. But the Democratic Party was able to create a governing majority coalition by inviting the Socialist Movement for Integration into the government. SMI had competed in the 2009 elections as an opposition party and asked for the support of voters to remove the Democratic Party from power and send Prime Minister Sali Berisha to "political retirement". But after the election, SMI votes were used to keep the Democrats and Berisha in power.

The parliamentary elections 2013 brought the Socialists to power. Edi Rama's Socialist Party managed to build a winning coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta and a few smaller satellite parties, many of which were previously unknown. These elections were very important for Socialist Party and seen as the last chance for Rama at the helm of the party after losing the 2009 elections and his seat as mayor of Tirana two years earlier after holding it for 11 years since 2004. Losing the elections would have effectively ended Rama’s political career, which experts saw as a key factor in him seeking an alliance with the SMI, giving the smaller ally a blank check in key areas of a future government. In addition, to win, Rama creating a huge coalition which included tiny parties and some led by people with shady pasts that would come to haunt him later during the governance period.

On the other hand, the SMI, which became a key factor in the large win for the Socialist-led coalition, decided it would break off with DP after ruling with it for four years, seeing at very hard for DP to get a third win in a row. The win for the coalition was strong, but the Socialist Party itself only managed to get 65 seats, which were insufficient to government alone.

Perhaps the most positive outcome of the elections was that the Democrats did not challenge their loss, and there was no major conflict over the results, despite some allegations of wrongdoings. As a result, the transfer of power was fast and calm, culminating with the resignation of perennial leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha, from the leader’s position.

This material has been prepared by the Tirana Center for Journalistic Excellence. Please visit TCJE.org for more information.

 

[1] In addition to the Democratic Party, other opposition parties such as the Republican and Social-democratic parties had been founded.

[2] Albania was the last country in the former communist Eastern Europe to end its communist regime. By then, then the chances of keeping such regime going in Albania were nearly nonexistent.

[3] Democratic Party won 87 percent of seats in parliament, and together with its allies, the victory went to 93 percent, while the opposition held only 7 percent of the seats. This absolute domination of the political scene, however, was on shaky ground from the beginning.

[4] Elections were held under the presence of a military force mainly from EU member states, led by Italy, including Romania and Turkey. OSCE led international presence. From this year, the OSCE continued to maintain a presence in Albania. The international community continues to be involved in a significant degree in domestic politics and in particular in elections.
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