Daily Archives: June 28, 2013
Legislative elections were held in Albania on June 23, 2013. Albania’s unicameral Parliament (Kuvendi i Shqipërisë) has 140 members elected to a four-year term. Members are elected by proportional representation in twelve multi-member constituencies which correspond to the country’s twelve administrative counties. The number of seats in each constituency is based on the population, with Tirana County having 32 deputies while Kukës County returns only four MPs. A political party must obtain 3% of the votes to win seats, while coalitions of parties must win 5%. Seats are attributed to coalitions by the d’Hondt method, while seats to the component parties are then attributed by the Sainte-Laguë method.
Between 1945 and 1991, Albania was a single-party communist state. Until 1985, Albania had been under the repressive iron fist of Enver Hoxha, a hardline Stalinist and ‘anti-revisionist’ communist leader who broke with his erstwhile allies – Yugoslavia (1948), the Soviet Union (1961) and China (1978) – one after the other, claiming that they had betrayed original (Stalinist) communism and turned into revisionist regime. As a result, Albania became an extremely isolated autarkic regime which barred its people from travelling outside the regime, built up half a million pillboxes to defend from ‘invasion’, brutally cracked down on dissidents and oppressed religious groups under the auspices of ‘state atheism’. Hoxha died in 1985 and was replaced by Ramiz Alia, who despite having been a close Hoxhaist until 1985, began a policy of slow and gradual reforms – looseing travel bans, opening up ties with neighboring states and allowing for some public dissent. However, he was soon caught up in the winds of change which swept Eastern Bloc nations in the early 1990s and, after a student protest in December 1990, was compelled to hold multiparty elections to a constituent assembly in March-April 1991. The ruling party, the Party of Labour of Albania (PPSH), which had already begun morphing into a more socialist/social democratic pro-European party, enjoyed several built-in advantages which allowed it to sweep to victory, defeating Sali Berisha’s urban-based right-wing Democratic Party (PD), which was strongly supported by the United States. Alia became President of Albania, and the PPSH became the Socialist Party (PS) in June 1991.
The Albanian economy, wrecked by years of Hoxhaist rule, collapsed in 1991-1993, taking with it Alia’s government in the 1992 elections. Sali Berisha’s PD won 62% of the vote and Berisha, who had supported the student protests in 1990, became President. Berisha’s government engaged in major economic, institutional and political reforms which thoroughly liberalized the economy through massive privatizations of all land and SMEs. Albania opened towards the West, joining the Council of Europe in 1995 and cooperating closely with the EU and the US. Between 1993 and 1996, Albania enjoyed a period of rapid economic growth (9%). As in many other Eastern Bloc countries, this first period of economic boom was built on sand and collapsed on itself shortly thereafter. In Albania, the government had allowed and even encouraged the proliferation of pyramid schemes in which many Albanians invested their savings. The government profited and had personal interests in these scams, as they were fronts for money laundering and arms trafficking. In May 1996, the PD was reelected with an even wider majority (122/140) in an election marred by fraud and intimidation.
In January 1997, the pyramid schemes collapsed, causing Albanians to lose $1.2 billion. At staggering speed, the country rose up in open rebellion against the government, and state authorities disintegrated as citizens raided arm depots. Southern Albania, which had been the traditional base of the communist regime and remained the base of the post-communist left, became a no-man’s land controlled by rebels, armed gangs and criminal mafias. The government was forced to resign and replaced by a Socialist government which called for new elections in June 1997. The government called for a foreign intervention to restore order. The UNSC authorized a multilateral intervention, led by Italy, which succeeded in restoring order.
The PS won the June 1997 elections, winning 101 out of 155 seats. At the same time as the presidential election, a referendum on restoring the monarchy was held. Albania had been a ramshackle monarchy between 1928 and 1939, under the rule of the idiosyncratic King Zog I. His son, Crown Prince Leka, was claimant to the throne in 1997. On official results, the monarchic option lost with two-thirds against, but Sali Berisha admitted in 2011 that the results had been manipulated and the monarchy had actually won.
Fatos Nano, the PS leader, became Prime Minister. Nano had led the modernization of the PS, transforming the former hardline communist party into a European social democratic party, supportive of European integration. Nano had been imprisoned on fairly flimsy grounds during Sali Berisha’s presidency. The government had claimed he was involved in corruption and misusing humanitarian aid, but the PS – backed by numerous NGOs (Amnesty, HRW, IPU etc) claimed he was a political prisoner, locked up because of his opposition to Berisha and his autocratic tendencies.
Nano was forced to resign after a coup attempt by hardline PD members in 1998. He was replaced by Pandeli Majko, but Nano returned as Prime Minister in 2002, shortly after the PS was reelected with a reduced majority in 2001. Under Socialist government, Albania’s economy stabilized and grew after the 1997 crisis, although poverty, poor public services and widespread corruption remained major issues which continued to encourage immigration to Italy and neighbouring countries.
Sali Berisha returned to power in the 2005 elections. Under Berisha’s government, Albania continued moving closer to the United States and the European Union; in 2007, he hosted US President George W. Bush, the first visit by an American President to Albania. However, corruption, government inefficiency/incompetence and the government’s autocratic tendencies remained major issues.
Berisha’s PD-led coalition was controversially reelected in 2009, winning 70 seats against 66 seats for Tirana mayor Edi Rama’s PS-led coalition. The Socialist Alliance for Integration, a PS dissident coalition led by former PS Prime Minister Illir Meta (1999-2002) won four seats and gave their support to Berisha, in exchange for Meta becoming deputy PM and foreign minister. The PS claimed that the election was rigged and they refused to take their seats in Parliament. They might have had a good point, considering that most past elections had been marred by allegations of intimidation, vote-buying and limited fraud. However, foreign observers generally OKed the 2009 election.
Albania joined NATO in 2009 and signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU in April 2009. However, in a major setback to its hopes of winning EU candidate status, it failed to gain candidate status in December 2010 because of the post-2009 political crisis and lack of progress on key issues.
As in many other Eastern European countries (especially Romania or Bulgaria), the two main parties hate one another, a mutual antagonism which masks the fact that, in the end, they don’t differ all that much on ideology (assuming they actually have one) and they only feud because both want absolute power for themselves. As in other post-communist states, there is rising popular discontent with the political system – widely viewed as corrupt, incompetent, ineffective and blind to the problems facing the country. Many voters feel that, regardless of who is in government, little has changed and little will change. Albania has progressed since the fall of communism, but it still faces a huge number of issues. If it were to join the EU, it would be the poorest country in the alliance and also the most corrupt.
Albanian politics since 2001 or so have transitioned to something of a two-party/coalition system, with two dominant coalitions which are in turn individually dominated by a single party. These coalitions go through various tinpot names which are amusingly similar at times – in 2009, the PD-led coalition was the ‘Alliance for Change’ and the PS-led coalition was the ‘Union for Change’!
This year, the PD-led alliance is the Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration (Aleanca për Punësim, Mirëqenie dhe Integrim). The largest party in the coalition is Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party (Partia Demokratike e Shqipërisë
), a centre-right party which strongly supports European integration. Traditionally, the second strongest party is the Republican Party (Partia Republikane e Shqipërisë), a more right-wing party led by former defense minister Fatmir Mediu. Founded in 1991 as an imitation of the American GOP, it used to be more Eurosceptic and nationalistic, but it has since adopted pro-European and pro-NATO positions which means that its ideological differences with the PD are close to nonexistent. The only other party of relevance in the ruling coalition is the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (Partia Drejtësi, Integrim dhe Unitet, PDIU).
The PDIU is a nationalist party, particularly focusing its attention on Albanians in neighbouring countries – Kosovo, Macedonia, the Presevo valley in Serbia and Montenegro. The PDIU also advocates for Cham Albanians, Albanians who were expelled from the Greek region of Epirus after World War II, having been accussed by Greece of collaboration with the Nazis. The Italians had cultivated irredentist feelings with Cham Albanians, with the aim of using them as tools to cause unrest in Epirus while Italy was preparing for its invasion of Greece, in which it was aided by pro-fascist Albanian troops. Cham Albanians demand the restoration of Greek citizenship, the right to return and restoration/compensation for lost property. Tirana has been trying to not bring up the issue, while Athens has been unwavering in its refusals to budge on its position (that Chams collaborated and are thus war criminals).
The governing coalition ran on its record, emphasizing investments made in education, healthcare, social policies and infrastructure projects. It is also proud of its 10% flat tax (on VAT, income taxes and business/corporate taxes), which it says has allowed Albania to escape the global recession and maintain a 1-3% growth rate during the economic crisis (1.3% in 2012, 1.8% in 2013 – the lowest since 1997). It promised more reforms, creating 250,000 jobs and attracting foreign investment.
The PD-led coalition includes 25 parties in total, all but three of which are irrelevant.
The PS-led alliance is the Alliance for a European Albania (Aleanca për Shqipërinë Europiane), which includes no less than 37 parties. By far, the most relevant party is the Socialist Party (Partia Socialiste e Shqipërisë), a centre-left party led by Edi Rama. The PS never recognized the PD’s victory in the 2009 election, and boycotted the Parliament for a year, until the European Parliament mediated and allowed the PS to finally take their seat. In January 2011, the PS organized major protests against Sali Berisha’s government. The police responded with force, killing four protesters and wounding many others. In May 2011, the PS walked out of Parliament again after contesting the results of the 2011 local elections, particularly a high-profile mayoral contest in Tirana which was narrowly won by the PD candidate, defeating PS leader and incumbent mayor Edi Rama. In April 2013, two members of the Republican Guard suspected in the death of protesters in 2011 were acquitted by a Tirana court. Another man, a former adviser to the Prime Minister, was also acquitted on charges of attempting to erase security camera footage during the protests.
This year, the PS is allied with the Socialist Movement for Integration (Lëvizja Socialiste për Integrim, LSI), a social democratic party founded in 2004 by former PS Prime Minister Ilir Meta, a major rival of former PS leader Fatos Nano. The LSI originally cooperated with the PS, notably in the 2007 local elections where it helped Edi Rama win a third term as mayor of Tirana. However, the agreement broke down and after 2008 the LSI allied with the PD and Berisha. After the 2009 elections, the LSI’s four members gave the PD its absolute majority, in return for Meta being deputy PM, foreign minister, two other ministries for the LSI and the LSI getting 20% of public sector jobs. It withdrew from the government and allied with the PS in April 2013. The LSI, like the PS, is strongly pro-European, perhaps even more so than the PS.
The only other relevant actor in the PS’s coalition is the Unity for Human Rights Party (Partia Bashkimi për të Drejtat e Njeriut/Κόμμα Ένωσης Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων, PBDNJ), a party which represents Albania’s small (1-2%) Greek minority. After Albanian independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1913, a small Greek minority in Northern Epirus (southern Albania, extension of the Greek region of Epirus) came under Albanian sovereignty, much to the distaste of the local Greeks who declared their independence and had it granted to them (under nominal Albanian sovereignty) in the 1914 Protocol of Corfu, which was never implemented. After World War I and the defeat of Greek irredentism in Asia Minor, Northern Epirus came under complete Albanian sovereignty. The Albanian governments, both under Zog and communism, effectively paid lip service to minority rights. Greeks were granted limited rights (such as education in Greek and Albanian), but only in a strictly delimited area (which excluded many other Greeks), and both regimes worked to undermine minority rights. Under communism, Hoxha repressed any expression of Greek nationalism or minority rights, prohibited religion and used the same brutal tactics (resettlement, isolation, forced labour) on Greeks. Since the fall of communism, the Greek minority has remained a source of ethnic tensions in southern Albania and a point of contention with Athens. Many Greeks immigrated to Greece, a minority resorted to violence (met with reprisals from Tirana). Since 1996, however, relations have improved between the two states, although Greek Albanians allege they face discrimination and ethnic tensions still boil over. The PBDNJ has limited support and it has been losing strength in recent years.
The left campaigned on abolishing the flat tax and replacing it with a progressive income tax and creating a universal healthcare system.
Earlier this year, a lot was made of the new Red and Black Alliance (Aleanca Kuq e Zi, AK), a nationalist party founded in 2012 by Kreshnik Spahiu. The AK had a nationalist platform, advocating for the unification of all ethnic Albanians in the Balkans – the pan-Albanian irredentist dream of uniting Albanians in Kosovo, Macedonia and other regions into a singe Albanian nation-state. It also had an anti-elite and anti-corruption rhetoric, calling for term limits and even banning any person from leading a political party for a long time (Sali Berisha has been leading the PD, effectively, since 1991). Many Albanians strongly support Kosovo, and would probably support a union of Kosovo and Albania.
The AK accused the PD’s ethnic Greek labour minister, Spiro Ksera, of having links with Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (XA) and having employed a Greek Albanian who had supported a Greek irredentist movement in Northern Epirus.
AK polled up to 15% in January, but collapsed in April. It is likely linked to rising internal tensions within the new party, highlighted by the publicized resignations of over 20 members who criticized Kreshnik Spahiu’s autocratic leadership. Prime Minister Sali Berisha also stoked nationalist fires during the campaign. He pledged to give Albanian passports to Albanians living in other states. In November 2012, he claimed that the Epirus region of Greece was Albanian, leading Greece’s foreign minister to cancel a visit for the centenary of Albanian independence. At other times, Berisha indicated his support for Greater Albania, saying that he wanted all Albanians to live in a single nation-state.
All actors support European integration. The PD and PS exchanged blame for the failure of EU candidate status. The PD claims that the PS, by boycotting Parliament, blocked the passage of required reforms. The PS answers that it’s the PD’s fault, citing widespread corruption, organized crime and bad governance.
Turnout was 53.24%, up from, 50.77% in 2009. Similar to countries such as Romania, declining turnout since the fall of communism reflects dissatisfaction with the political system, widely seen as corrupt and useless.
International observers and the EU both clearly indicated prior to the vote that they would be closely watching the process and outcome, saying it would be a test of Albania’s political leaders’ commitment to European integration and the strength of the democratic institutions.
Results for 99.68% of precincts:
Alliance for a European Albania 57.54% (+7.35%) winning 84 seats (+14)
PS 41.12% (+0.27%) winning 66 seats (+1)
LSI 10.44% (+5.59%) winning 16 seats (+12)
PBDNJ 0.83% (-0.36%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PKDSH 0.47% (+0.47%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Other PS allies 4.68% winning 0 seats (nc)
Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration 39.23% (-7.69%) winning 56 seats (-14)
PD 30.41% (-9.77%) winning 49 seats (-19)
PR 3.04% (+0.93%) winning 3 seats (+2)
PDIU 2.59% (+2%) winning 4 seats (+3)
Other PD allies 3.19% winning 0 seats (nc)
FRD 1.69% winning 0 seats
AK 0.59% winning 0 seats
Others 0.63% winning 0 seats
The left-wing opposition won a clear victory, taking a three-fifths majority in the Parliament. The incumbent government was likely hurt by the slower economy since 2012, allegations of corruption, the controversy since the 2009 elections and the heightened political polarization in the country. There was perhaps an additional desire for change, after 8 years of PD government.
Edi Rama’s PS itself did not do all that well, basically repeating their performance from 2009. It was, instead, Ilir Meta’s LSI which gave the leftist coalition its landslide victory. The LSI won 10% and 16 seats, a substantial improvement on its performance in the 2009 election. I have no clue what explains this. A desire for change, channeled by a ‘safe’ alternative (LSI) rather than a boring and fairly tainted mainstream PS?
The incumbent government lost the election, in turn, by a wide margin. The PD suffered the brunt of loses, losing some support to its right – PR and PDIU – but also probably losing a lot to the left/LSI.
More spectacular is the extent of polarization and the utter failure of alternatives which lay outside the two main alliances. The nationalist AK, which everybody made a big deal about earlier in the year (the ‘kingmakers’), ended up being totally irrelevant. The left seized the change message for itself, and the governing right was probably more successful in appealing to nationalist opinion. Another new force, the New Democratic Party (Fryma e Re Demokratike, FRD), a centre-right PD dissident party led by former President Bamir Topi (2007-2012), who criticized Berisha for his failure to confront corruption. In the end, the FRD failed to shake up the political system as it wished to do.
Geographically, there has tended to be a strong north-south divide in Albanian politics. As far as I know, this divide closely reflects a dialectal split. Northern Albania, as well as Kosovo and northwestern Macedonia, speak Gheg dialects of Albanian. Southern Albania, as well as southwestern Macedonia and Epirus, speak Tosk dialects of Albanian. The Shkumbin river, which runs south of Tirana, forms a geographic divide between the Gheg and Tosk regions. Politically, most of the PPSH communist elite (Enver Hoxha first and foremost) hailed from southern Albania and, for example, Hoxha’s linguistic standardization policies settled the dispute in favour of Tosk – the language of the PPSH’s inner circle. As a result, the PS has tended to be dominant in the south, while the north has backed the right. There might be a social element to this divide as well, the south might have been under the sway of feudal beys until the communist era, while the north was less feudal.
In the 2009 election, there was a clear north-south split in the left-right divide. This year, by virtue of the left’s landslide, the divide has been abated somewhat. Still, the right failed to break 40% in any district south of Tirana, while it was in the mid to high 40s in most of the north.
The election went quite well, with the tragic exception of a LSI member who was assassinated near a polling station and three other persons, including a PD candidate, who were wounded. As far as I know, Berisha has conceded defeat and the result are not being contested. The fairly smooth process should definitely be helpful to Albania in its goal of achieving EU candidate status.
It will also have a more stable and less controversial government, still committed to European integration, in power. Albania still has a lot of work to do and many fundamental reforms on the table before it can be admitted as a EU candidate.
Economic reforms, unemployment (officially 14%, unofficially 40%), organized crime, corruption, a huge parallel economy (60% of GDP) and a growing budget deficit will be the top issues for incoming Prime Minister Edi Rama. The PS hasn’t run the country into the wall in the past (since 1991), but it’s record isn’t stellar either – it showed no great attachment to liberal democratic values (judicial independence etc) and proved itself to be quite corrupt in its own right. It remains to be seen how much it will reform Albania and deal with its most pressing problems.