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AIIS Director: I Would Be Happy to See These Elections Liberate Albania From the Tyranny of the Status Quo

How significant is this election for Albania, given its EU accession process? Will it have an effect on current political deadlock?

First and foremost, these elections are important to test the capabilities, skills, and above all, the political will of political parties to have an electoral process that is free and fair and based on international standards. With the exception of the 1992 elections, through which Albania replaced a regime and not the government, all parliamentary elections have been contested in one way or another.

Second, these elections are important because they could end the conflict and deep political division that stems from the recent parliamentary elections. I, as any Albanian, would be very happy indeed if these elections liberate Albania from the tyranny of the status quo. For the past two years, we have been almost trapped by conflict and disputes,

However it is not entirely unlikely that these elections do maintain that tyranny. In fact, they can even make it worse. That would be very wrong and costly for our aspirations for EU membership. That’s because the actual integration process has to take place here in Albania. To be complete with would need democratic governance, a functioning state that enjoys full legitimacy and provides basic public good to its citizens, and a developed capitalist economy based on the free market and competition. Essentially, this is Albania’s Europeanization project, which may take a relatively long time to materialize. The other approach — that Albania becomes a member of the European Union and that EU membership magically brings about democratic governance, a functioning state and a developed economy, is false.

What do you think the likely outcome is in terms of gains/losses by the major parties? And the effect on Berisha and Rama?

Victory or defeat will be determined by what happens in Tirana. The Tirana race will be decisive and will have important political implications.

And the battle for Tirana will be one that is as hard fought as the famous WWII Battle of Stalingrad. That’s because its results have a lot of political implications for the political future not just of the candidates but the entire country.

The Democratic Party will fight a life and death battle to get back into Tirana City Hall, which has been ruled by the Socialists for almost a decade.

A Democratic Party victory in Tirana and perhaps in some of the other large cities that are now controlled by the Socialists would offer a confirmation of sorts for the result of the 2009 parliamentary elections and might virtually shut down the debate for the deformation of these results.

Also, a return of the Democrats in charge of Tirana City Hall would offer a good investment for the next parliamentary elections. Such a scenario could encourage the Democratic Party of Sali Berisha to go to parliamentary elections before the regularly scheduled time in 2013. A win by Basha in the local elections, would seal his fast rise within the Democratic Party. He has already held the foreign, economy and interior minister positions, and a win in Tirana would give more fuel to those who see Basha at the top of DP once Berisha retires.

Above all, as mentioned earlier, a victory in Tirana by the former interior minister would go a long way to defeat the opposition’s point of view that Basha was implicated in the killing of the four protesters in the opposition’s Jan. 21 protest.

But the metaphor of Stalingrad is mostly associated with other capital contender in the race — Edi Rama. He enters the race for the fourth time, but this is the first time that he is head of the SP. A loss in Tirana by Rama would have implications for his political future itself. In such a scenario, he might be unable to control his party. Critics of Rama in the SP would gain strength and try to seek his early departure following to two consecutive losses, in the parliamentary and local elections.

What is your view on the violence and bitter disputes that have broken out? How damaging are they?

There have been some isolated cases agitation and violence. Of course this is not a pretty or appropriate picture. But these are local elections and in addition to the political interests of the parties, individuals in the race in villages and towns in across Albania have their own direct interests in the races. And at times they react in a typical Mediterranean way. At least so far, we are not dealing with violence being used as an instrument to influence the outcome of the elections. Of course, we must wait for election day to see the full picture on this.

What is your view on Stratfor’s suggestion that Albania is increasingly polarised between North and South, Gheg and Tosk?

The electoral map lends some credence to the theory.

The Albanian society as whole is currently polarised, and unfortunately this has been accompanied by a shrinking civil society. But this polarization is absolutely not based on a North-South division. The supposed separation here does not exist. Some cultural differences do exist, but if you try to build a theory of political division between the North and the South, it doesn’t stand. Both major parties are present and have strongholds both in the North and the South.

Other articles by the author:
(30/05/14) Albania lobbies sceptical EU members ahead of status decision
(30/05/14) Criminal investigation on defunct Greek–Albanian maritime border agreement sought
(30/05/14) A wrong approach: Playing politics with Albania’s drug problem
(30/05/14) Consumption, investments provide mixed picture of economic recovery
(30/05/14) Benelux should serve as example to Balkan countries, PM says
(30/05/14) Progress towards the EU requires resolute, sustained and cooperative action
(30/05/14) Travel destinations: Exploring the Albanian Riviera
(30/05/14) The Oliver Twists of Albania
(30/05/14) Rockstock festival to return early 1990s music
(30/05/14) Italy to help Albania fight drug traffic, organized crime
By .Tirana Times Staff
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