03/07/2005 - Analysis
On 25th April last the political parties had not managed to agree on a date. The Albanian President Alfred Moisiu therefore announced that the next Albanian general elections would take place on 3rd July. "These elections are very important for Albania's integration of Europe and for its ability to integrate Euro-Atlantic structures," he emphasised. Around four hundred international observers from the OSCE from fifteen different States will be present to ensure that the election takes place as it should.
The Political System
The Assembly of the Republic of Albania is the only Chamber in Parliament. It comprises 140 members, who are elected every four years. One hundred of them are elected in a single member vote and 40 from a proportional list. According to the Constitution of 1998 a minimum threshold of 2.5% of the votes cast (for a party) and 4% (for a coalition of parties) is required to be represented in Parliament.
At present seven political parties are represented:
- the Socialist Party (PSSH) of Prime Minister Fatos Nano. It has 73 MP's;
- the Union for Victory (BF) rallies five parties, the main one being the Democrat Party (PDSh), the country's main opposition party led by former President of the Republic (1992-1997) Sali Berisha. It has 46 MP's;
- the Democratic Party (PD) is a conservative party with 6 MP's ;
- the Social Democrat Party (PSDS) led by Skender Gjinushi and member of the government coalition. It has four MP's;
- the Party of the Union for Human Rights (PBDN) led by Jorgo Labovitjadhi, representative of the country's Greek minority. Member of the government coalition, it has three MP's;
- the Agrarian Party (PAS) led by Lufter Xhuveli has three MP's;
- the Democratic Alliance Party (PADS) a liberal party led by Neritan Ceka with three MP's.
The Election Stakes
Albania is the poorest country in Europe. In February 1997 the country was almost in a state of civil war after the popular revolt against the collapse of the financial pyramid system. This system that was encouraged by the President at the time, Sali Berisha, offered investments at interest rates that rose to 100%. Around 70% of Albanian families invested their savings in these pyramids. Since the end of 1999 the country is calm but still open to major economic and social problems.
The most recent report by the World Bank confirms a disastrous economic situation that is even worse than in 1996 and decries the lack of improvement in the fight against corruption and organised crime. Drug trafficking and prostitution is supposed to be earning various Albanian mafia nearly double the State budget (around four billion euros per year). Albania is lies 92nd (out of 133 countries) in the world ranking on the perception of corruption undertaken in 2003 by Transparency International, the main worldwide NGO dedicated to the fight against corruption. According to a poll published on 9th May undertaken in April 2005 by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), an American organisation dedicated to strengthening and developing democracy in the world, more than eight Albanians in ten (84%) believe that their political leaders are corrupt and 46% say they are only motivated by their own financial interest. The World Bank report also notes the fragility of the country's political stability that has been in constant decline since 1996. Nearly two thirds of those interviewed (60%) doubt whether the upcoming general elections will take place in a free and honest way.
Unemployment, that affects 15% of the population officially lies in reality around 40% and comprises the Albanians' main concern. According to an NDI survey in the eyes of 44% of those interviewed the lack of employment is a major economic problem for the country. 60% of the population, and notably those living in rural areas live below the poverty line and one third in a state that we might qualify as extreme poverty (less than 4,890 leks per month, i.e. less than 40 euro). According the UN Programme for Development this threshold takes Albania closer to Central Asia rather than the other countries of South East Europe.
This catastrophic situation is the cause of high emigration: nearly half of the population has emigrated and many only see their future outside of the Albanian borders.
In the face of this situation Prime Minister Fatos Nano, candidate to his own succession, declared that the adoption in 2004 of new anti-mafia legislation enabled the strengthening of the fight against organised crime and corruption. He lays emphasis on the purge of the police forces six hundred members of which were brought to trial. The country's integration of NATO and likewise the European Union comprise two vital themes of the present electoral campaign. The country's two main parties, the Socialist Party and the Democrat Party are competing in terms of how quickly their respective parties can lead Albania to become a member of these two organisations. "Albania expects and deserves to be invited to integrate NATO in the next Atlantic Alliance summit," declared the Prime Minister on 24th March last. For his part Sali Berisha is accusing the government in power of having impeded the country's accession to the EU and NATO. In 2003 Albania, Macedonia and Croatia signed an Adriatic Charter with the USA that was designed to facilitate these three countries' integration of NATO. In 2004 Albania was to sign a stabilisation and association agreement with the EU the negotiations for which started in February 2003. The process failed since the European institutions criticised the lack of progress in the fight against organised crime and corruption. Last February the EU became concerned about the slowness of the preparations for the general elections warning the government of the consequences this might have on the country's hopes of European integration. "We hope that Tirana will hold general elections that meet international standards," declared the Luxembourg Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jean Asselborn on behalf of the EU Presidency. He also asked the Albanian authorities "for more concrete results in terms of the fight against organised crime and corruption," declaring that this meant "standards that any State hoping to join the European Union must respect."
On 12th October 2003, the Albanians elected the mayors and councillors in 65 towns, 308 boroughs and 11 districts of the capital Tirana. The Socialist Party asserted itself winning 184 local units (including Tirana, Durrës, Vlorë, Kukës, Gjirokastër and Berat) and 33.19% of the town councillors. The Prime Minister's party did however record a decline of nearly six points in comparison with the previous election in 2000. The Coalition that rallies the Democrat Party, the Republican Party (PRSh) and the Liberal Democrat Party (BLD) won 139 local units (including Shkodër, Elbasan, Korcë and Sarandë) and 31.91% of the town councillors. Only two parties, the Agrarian Party and the Union for Human Rights Party succeeded in rising above the 2.5% vote mark.
The Electoral Campaign
The Socialist Party underwent a serious crisis in September 2004 leading to the party's division. After much disagreement with the Prime Minister, Ilir Meta created the Socialist Movement for Integration (MSI) that some close colleagues of Fatos Nanos joined as a consequence (nine MP's and nearly 60 local leaders). "The aim of our movement is to rid ourselves of the past and to look towards Albania's European future," emphasised Ilir Meta who is appealing for a vote against "the former forces on both the left and right" in the general elections on 3rd July. "The political parties have been responsible for the last ten years for the political tension that is destroying the country's stability. We are determined to provide a new vision of politics, that has been taken hostage over years of conflict fed by the former forces both on the left and the right," he declared.
Unsurprisingly former President Sali Berisha was re-elected on 24th April last at the head of the Democrat Party. "The Democrats will provide the country with new hope. I invite the Albanians to vote in the July elections for change, security, peace and for their well being." The political leader promised to ensure the Albanians "more jobs, greater protection for farmers, more schools, more foreign investments, more electricity and more water... change for the Democrats also means a greater fight against corruption and organised crime," he maintained. The opposition leader also promised to organise a "public trial of those responsible for corruption and the present misery."
On 27th April last all of the political parties signed, in the presence of President Alfred Moisiu, an ethical pact in order to avoid tension and protest that since the fall of communism has interspersed the Albanian elections. Their results have systematically been challenged by the loser. The parties committed themselves "not to encourage violence and hate through speeches or acts that might damage the country's peace and stability" and to declare the origin of the funds used during the electoral campaign that is to be "transparent and honest." "The general elections in July are a challenge that must finally take Albania away from its past and bring it onto the true path leading to democracy," maintained the President. "The ethical pact commits the main parties to acknowledge the election results and to respect the law and the institutions and to contribute to a peaceful and honest electoral climate," indicated the Presidency's spokesperson, Aferdita Sokoli.
According to the NDI poll 29% of the Albanians are about to vote for the Democrat Party led by Sali Berisha, 23% for the Socialist Party led by Fatos Nanos and 8% for the Socialist Movement for Integration led by Ilir Meta. One third of those interviewed did not say how they were going to vote.
Reminder of the general election results 24th June 2001