02/06/2009 - Analysis
On 28th June next the Albanians are being called to renew the 140 members of their Parliament. 34 political parties are officially running in this election which will mainly witness the confrontation of two men: outgoing Prime Minister Sali Berisha, head of the Democratic Party (PDSH), a central figure in the Albanian political arena since the fall of Communism in April 1991, and Edi Rama, mayor of Tirana and leader of the Socialist Party (PSSH).
Albanian President Bamir Topi called on 19th April for his fellow countrymen to turn out en masse on 28th June.
The Albanian Political System
The Albanian Parliament is monocameral. Its only chamber, the Assembly of the Republic of Albania comprises 140 members, elected every four years by regional proportional representation. According to the 1998 Constitution a minimum threshold of 3% of the votes cast (for a party) and 5% (for a coalition of parties) is vital to be represented in Parliament.
In December 2008 Parliament adopted (116 votes in favour, 3 against) a new electoral code. This increased the bipolar nature of the political system, the reason why the "small
" parties protested against this new law. In vain several MPs undertook a ten-day hunger strike in an attempt to have the law modified. For its part the OSCE and the Venice Committee (Council of Europe) declared that this new electoral law "was a legal base for free, democratic elections
" to be held.
The new law stipulated that every voter who does not have a passport must be given a voter's card that he has to present at the polling station before the election on 28th June. This measure aimed to fight against electoral fraud (false birth certificates had been used in the past); since the fall of Communism all of the elections that have taken place have been challenged. "We have cleaned up the electoral rolls,
" indicates Sali Berisha saying that, "the voter's card is extremely precious to all Albanians and it makes everyone equal. Around 13,000 people have asked for it daily and no Albanian who wants to vote will be deprived of this document.
To date 1,230,000 cards have been distributed. A dispute arose on the establishment of this identity paper. The opposition forces, who accused the government of delaying the distribution of the cards asked for them to be issued free to all, accusing the Prime Minister, Sali Berisha of issuing free documents only to some of the electorate, a demagogic operation which enabled him to stand as the defender of the poorest Albanians and which might also be the source of future fraud. The head of government refused to issue free cards and offered to deliver them for a fee of 10€ (2 € for some social categories such as students, pensioners and the unemployed). Finally the ruling power and the opposition came to an agreement on the issue on 28th April last; the id cards are now delivered for 200 leks (1.4€).
President Bamir Topi believes that "the Albanians must have an id card, not only to be able to vote but also because everyone must be able to travel freely in Europe, which is impossible without an id paper.
For the general elections Albania has now been divided into 12 regions.
12 political parties, spread across 9 parliamentary groups are represented in Parliament http://www.parlament.al/
- the Democratic Party (PDSH) of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, has 49 seats;
- the Socialist Party (PSSH), led by Edi Rama has 38 MPs ;
- the Republican Party (PRS) led by Fatmir Mediu has 11 MPs;
- the Social Democratic Party (PSDS) of Skënder Gjinushi has 7 seats;
- the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSPI) led by Ilir Meta has 7 MPs;
- the New Democratic Party (PDR) of Genc Pollo has 7 seats;
- the Environmental Agrarian Party (PAA) of Lufter Xhuveli has 7 seats;
- the Democratic Alliance Party (PADS), led by Neritan Ceka, the Christian Democratic Party (PDS) led by Nard Ndoka ; the Social Democracy Party (PDSS) of Paskal Milo ; the Party for the Union of Human Rights (PBDN), led by Vangjel Dule which represents the country's Greek minority and member of all of the governments since 1991 has 7 seats,
- and the National Front (PBKS) of Shpëtim Rroqi has 7 seats;
The Party for the Union of Human Rights (PBDN), member of the government coalition led by Sali Berisha, recently joined the opposition benches which it had quit in 2005. This decision created tension within the party with some members rejecting this new orientation. As a result of this decision Anastas Duro (PBDN), the government's Employment Minister, resigned on 14th May.
Issues at stake in the General Elections
In January last Prime Minister Berisha guaranteed that the elections would be free and fair and that this was his government's goal. "Although if I am determined to accept and respect the electoral verdict I am pleased to tell you that we shall win the general elections because the Albanians are wise people, they know that by voting for the left they would be voting in support of organized crime and corruption,
" he maintained during the congress of the European People's Party (EPP) that took place in Warsaw on 30th April last.
Sali Berisha, leader of the movement that led to the fall of the Communist regime established by Enver Hoxha in April 1991, occupies the central position in the political arena. Elected President of the Republic in 1992 after his party's victory in the country's first free general elections, Sali Berisha has governed Albania with an iron hand. In 1997 he was driven from power after riots which broke out after the collapse of the so-called financial pyramid system. Encouraged by Sali Berisha, nearly 70% of Albanian families had placed their savings in this system which offered interests rates that neared 100%. The 1997 riots, which almost brought the country to civil war, led to the death of 2,000.
In these general elections Sali Berisha has pointed to his government's results produced since 2005. Although the country still has many problems GDP growth reached 6% in 2008 (7% on average over the last 10 years). The World Bank indicates in its last report on April 23rd that 10,000 Albanians had emerged from poverty over the last few years. 12.4% of them however still live with less than 2$ per day. They totalled 18.5% in 2005 and 25.4% in 2002 out of a population of 3.3 million inhabitants.
Of course the economic crisis has not spared Albania. GDP growth is due to be negative this year according to the IMF (-0.4%). In addition to this the transfer of funds sent by émigrés has clearly decreased. Sali Berisha's government announced that it was going to increase salaries and retirement pensions before the general elections on 28th June. The Prime Minister who stresses the constructive role played by his country in the return of peace to the Balkans is also trying to retain the financial investors which the economic crisis has made timid; he is quick to recall that Albania is the country in Europe whose tax regime is the lowest on the continent.
Sali Berisha is the lead candidate for the Democratic Party in the constituency of Tirana in these elections.
The Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Social Democracy Party (PDS) and Group 99 (G99) formed the New Union for Change on 13th May especially for this election. Group 99 is a party that was created by some young Albanians in February last, with Erion Veliaj as its leader. "Our generation grew up during the transition period from communism and entered politics at that time. We think we are able to carry change into the electoral battle,
" he said.
The Chair of the Socialist Party, Edi Rama qualified the upcoming general elections as "historic
", and he is running with a "programme for change
". He turns for support to the results achieved as mayor of Tirana, a town he has cleaned up and transformed. The Socialist leader regularly accuses Sali Berisha of embodying corruption in Albania. Edi Rama did not resign from the town council and therefore is not running as a candidate to become an MP!
As in 2005 the Socialist Party is handicapped by the competition brought on its left by the Socialist Movement for Integration. During the general elections on 3rd July 2005 the Socialist Party lost its bastions in Tirana and Dürres where voters were charmed by Ilir Meta's party. "Those who vote for Ilir Meta are voting for Sali Berisha,
" warned Socialist leader Fatos Nano at the time but MSI did however succeed in reaching the Socialists' traditional electorate. Edi Rama is therefore leading a dual campaign: he has to fight against the Prime Minister's Democratic Party and also mind his left as far as the Socialist Movement for Integration is concerned.
On 28th April Sali Berisha delivered the official request for his country to belong to the European Union. "It is a dream come true,
" stressed the Prime Minister. The request comes after the ratification by the 27 Members of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) signed by Tirana and Brussels in June 2006 which came into force on 1st April 2008 and considered as the first stage in bringing Albania and the Union closer together. Montenegro delivered its request on 15th December 2008. Albania also became the 28th member of NATO on 4th April, the day of the 60th anniversary of the Atlantic organization.
"It is now up to Albania to show its ability to move on to the next step of European integration especially by improving the rule of law. The transparent, free, democratic nature of the general elections on 28th June next will also be a vital condition likewise the implementation of all the commitments made in the Stabilisation and Association Agreement,
" declared Michael Leigh, Director General for Enlargement at the European Commission. In November 2009 the Union said that Albania still had progress to make in terms of consolidating its civil service and its judicial system as well as stepping up the fight against the mafia and corruption if it was to meet European criteria.
European Ambassadors and those from the USA met the leaders of the country's two main political parties, Edi Rama and Sali Berisha. The latter reassured them with regard to the transparency and the democratic nature of the upcoming general elections. "The European Union will pay attention to how the next general elections in Albania are conducted which is vital for the country,
" declared Tomas Pojar, Foreign Minister for the Czech Republic. "I really hope that the political classes as well as the Albanian administration will work so that these general elections are the most democratic ever organized in the country and so that that Albania can really achieve great progress as a consequence,
" said the manager of the OSCE in Tirana http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/albania/37324
. "Albania is a vital part of the future we want to build for South Eastern Europe,
" said US Ambassador in Tirana, Frank Wisner. Jacques Barrot, Vice President for the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice also travelled to Albania on 1st and 2nd May to take stock of the progress achieved in terms of the fight against crime and corruption.
439 OSCE observers will be following the Albanian general elections.
Just one month before the election economic and social issues, notably poverty and unemployment are the focus of Albanian concerns. When asked about this two thirds quoted unemployment first (66%), 39% economic issues, 29% inflation and one quarter the government's corruption (25%). For half of the Albanians (51%) their country is on the right path. Nearly one four in ten of those interviewed (37%) say the opposite.
According to the latest poll by Zogby the two main parties are running neck and neck just one month before the vote. The Socialist Party is due to win 38% according to voting intentions and 37% is due to go to the Democratic Party. The Socialist Movement for Integration is due to win 6%, Group 99, 2%, the Republican Party, 1% and the Party of the Union of Human Rights 1%.
Source : Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)