Economy remains voters’ top concern ahead of local polls

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 5, 2015 11:00

Story Highlights

  • NDI’s director for Central and Eastern Europe, Robert Benjamin, urged Albanian politicians this week to respond to citizens' needs instead of focusing on attacking their opponents in the upcoming polls.

Related Articles

Job seekers look at a new jobs board in Durrës. Unemployment and the economy remain top concerns for voters, a recent survey has found.  (Photo: Archives)

Job seekers look at a new jobs board in Durrës. Unemployment and the economy remain top concerns for voters, a recent survey has found. (Photo: Archives)

Results of annual report also show pervasive mistrust among voters over candidates’ promises and the political class in general

TIRANA, June 4 – The poor state of the economy and high levels of unemployment are the top concerns for the majority of Albanians ahead of the local administrative elections on June 21, according to a recent report, which also showed grave concerns about corruption and lack of meritocracy in the public administration and pervasive mistrust among voters over candidate’s promises and the political class in general.

The annual survey conducted by the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute was not directly related to the upcoming elections but helps measure the public’s mood and provides a better picture of Albanians’ needs.

The survey’s findings indicate Albanians are disappointed with “the overall negative political climate.” And “distrust of parties is pervasive” among voters. This is part of a trend for the past three years, the authors noted.

The findings also show most Albanians see politics through negative lenses. “The perception of politics as a ‘dirty business’ makes them reluctant to consider joining a political party,” the report adds.

As candidates and party leaders field tens of expensive promises to voters during the current campaign for the local elects, they are likely going to find a skeptical public, according to the survey.

“Keeping promises is, by far, one of the biggest expectations of political parties,” the report notes, adding Albanians “also express disappointment that parties often fail to do so.”

The general mood of mistrust was captured by one Shkodra resident who told NDI survey takers: “I can’t commit myself to any party. When you enter politics the most successful person is the one who is a better liar.”

NDI’s director for Central and Eastern Europe, Robert Benjamin, urged Albanian politicians this week to respond to citizens’ needs instead of focusing on attacking their opponents in the upcoming polls.

Benjamin said there was some optimism and support for the government’s recent efforts in the survey’s finding, but people were clearly unhappy about the public administration’s performance a year and a half after the Socialist-led government came to power.

“Generally people make a connection between corruption and economic development because they see that corruption hinders economic development, in the sense that the bribes that go into one’s pockets are money that could be used for other things that could help to build the economy,” Benjamin said in an interview with U.S.-based broadcaster VoA. “A person who does not get a job even though he or she would be eligible under a merit system, means that that company, or public administration office will not work so well.”

Unemployment and the poor economy, topped by price increases in energy and food, as well as higher education fees and taxes, lead a considerable number of participants to believe that the country is moving in the wrong direction, the survey showed.

Lack of jobs, especially among youth, increases in electricity and consumption prices, and insufficient personal and family income to cover basic necessities are specified problems.

Many businesses, especially small or medium-sized, claim their profit margins have decreased considerably due to recent tax increases.

The report provided many direct comments under anonymous conditions from those surveyed illustrating the key trends it found.

“Taxes have increased, especially for the small businesses. We are hardly making it. Taxes are higher than they used to be,” a female respondent from Elbasan, central Albania, was quoted as saying.

Another respondent in Shkodra suggested “there should be development in agriculture and tourism and new jobs should be created.”

Corruption was not cited as a top priority in contrast to previous research findings. But participants persistently alluded to corrupt practice in comments about economic and social affairs, notably in health care, education and the judiciary.

They desired meritocratic hiring in public administration, which is seen as nepotistic and based on political connections.

Some perceived selective enforcement of laws favoring the wealthy and the politically connected.

“Participants in the discussions were mostly pleased by new government initiatives to curb losses in the energy sector, demolish illegal construction and close private universities seen to offer degrees for purchase,” NDI Albania Director Ana Kadovic said. “At the same time, and overriding these positive views, are deep concerns about the economy, social cohesion and people’s own prospects for their and their family’s future.”

The survey was conducted last December with respondents in some of the country’s largest cities, including Tirana, Shkodra, Fier, Elbasan and Korça.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 5, 2015 11:00