The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in the Republic of Albania in the light of the parliamentary election scheduled for 25 June 2017. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “Albania: LSI to play the key role in the formation of the new Albanian government again?”are given below.
On 25 June 2017, the ninth parliamentary election since the fall of Enver Hoxha's communist regime in 1991 will be held in Albania. Although the election was initially scheduled for 18 June 2017, due to the boycott by the opposition an agreement was made between the incumbent Prime Minister and Socialist Party (SP) president Edi Rama and the leader of the opposition Democratic Party (PD) Lulzim Basha to postpone the election until 25 June 2017. The opposition has actually boycotted the work of the Parliament since February 2017. The agreement between the government and the opposition to hold the election on 25 June was concluded on 18 May after the intervention of the EU and the USA. Based on the agreement, the opposition (i.e. the Democratic Party) received seven ministerial seats in the “technical” government, which would enable it to overview and control the election process. Thus, the opposition will have its “technical” deputy prime minister and six ministers, the main being the minister of the interior, and the rest covering justice, finance, health, education and social policy. One month before the election, Rama left the control over the main ministries to the opposition. Besides those ministerial positions, the opposition also took over the leadership of five main state institutions and administrations – energy distribution, land register, town planning and property legalisation, rural development and prison administration.
The 140 seats of the Parliament will be elected from 12 multi-member constituencies based on the proportional representation on closed tickets, with the election threshold of 3% for the parties and 5% for coalitions. Demographic changes have led to changes in the number of parliamentary seats in some electorates. For example in the Tirana electorate 34 MPs will be elected, in Fier 16, in Elabasan 14, and in Kukës only 3 MPs. At 2015 local election the Democratic Party lost Tirana which was its last strong fort. After that is also started to lose its traditional forts in the north of Albania.
The main race at the upcoming parliamentary election in Albania will again take place between the two leading coalitions gathered around the Socialist Party (PS) with the incumbent Prime Minister Edi Rama and the opposition Democratic Party (PD) led by Lulzim Basha. An important player is also the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) led by Petrit Vasili, which may again be the key actor when it comes to forming the new Albanian government. Other parties with sound chances to enter the parliament are theParty for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU - Partia Drejtësi, Integrim dhe Unitet) led by Shpëtim Idrizi and two new political parties: Libra led by Ben Blushi and Challenge for Albania (Sfida për Shqipërinë) led by Hektor Ruci.
The IFIMES International Institute has estimated that the polarised political scene in Albania is dominated by two political parties: The Socialist Party (PS) and the Democratic Party (PD). The third largest party is the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI). Thus it will be probably impossible to form the new Albanian government without LSI, unless PS and PD form the so called great coalition. Analysts have noted the LSI leader and experienced politician Ilir Meta has played the key role in building a positive image of Albania in the EU and in the world for the past ten years. Neither Edi Rama nor Lulzim Basha have the any political or moral right to undermine that image.
So far LSI has been led by Ilir Meta who has recently been elected as the new President of the Republic of Albania.
Analysts have estimated that the election of Meta for Albania's President represents one of the best moves of the incumbent Edi Rama's government. Meta is the most experienced Albanian politician, while Albin Kurti (LVV) is the most promising political representative in the Albanian ethnical body.
The upcoming parliamentary election will be the first election after Albania gained full membership in NATO and the status of the candidate state for EU membership. The EU and the USA have been strongly urging the leaders to make sure the election is fair and credible.
The results of pre-election polls in Albania are not always a reliable reflection of the factors influencing electorate preferences in comparison with the election day. They are nevertheless used as the basis for determining election strategies and carrying out discussions and analyses.
The IFIMES International Institute anticipates the electorate's tendency to vote for the left political option on the basis of the following factors: 1) the Democratic Party was in power for eight years, ruling arbitrarily and under deteriorating economic conditions; 2) the Socialist Party has applied a much more intensive election offensive using the modern political rhetoric; 3) the Socialist Party is using a modernised political vocabulary that emphasises acceleration of EU accession process, especially after the EU candidate country status was granted to Albania in 2014; 4) theDemocratic Party is burdened with many past encumbrances, including the accusations of having fixed previous election results; 5) the incumbent government continues to use Sali Berisha's methods and the nationalistic vocabulary such as the unification of Kosovo, which drives Albania away from EU membership; 6) the incumbent government has made attempts to gain control over the state institutions, which has created further mistrust among the voters and led to mass protests in May 2017; 7) the most negative surprise is PS leader Edi Rama who has turned to nationalism, advocating the unification of ethnic Albanians in the region into one state. It should be noted that Albania is a full member of NATO and that its sovereignty is guaranteed by NATO, while the Constitution of Kosovo clearly states that it is not possible to annex to or unite the Republic of Kosovo with any other state, not even with Albania. The winner of Kosovo election Albin Kurti (LVV) has made it clear that he will not allow any ethnic division of Kosovo, and the same should apply to Macedonia, whose internal stabilisation has been significantly influenced by the Albanians and their political leaders.
After four years in power, it seems that the incumbent Prime Minister and PS leader Edi Rama will receive the “yellow card” from Albanian voters and a part of the international community for his inappropriate statements and actions, while the Socialist Party will probably remain unpunished.
The atmosphere in Albania before the approaching parliamentary election still does not reflect the need for a change power, which was also confirmed by the recent public opinion polls. Thus, according to researches, the Socialist Party would win most of the votes, but that would still not be enough to form the government on its own. The Democratic Party is lagging behind the Socialist Party, while the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) is on the third place. This trend has been further confirmed by another public opinion poll which points to the victory of the Socialists. Edi Rama and Sali Berisha represent some kind of a political phenomenon and controversy. Unlike the Albanians in Albania who are fed up with Rama, Berisha and their politics, the Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia still regard them positively. If they were to vote at the election the result would probably be completely different, but they are not entitled to vote. Being aware of that, Berisha tried to change the law on citizenship in order to enable each ethnic Albanian, regardless of his/her place of birth and residence, to gain Albanian citizenship and – consequently – the right to vote. His attempt to change the law on citizenship was not the result of his concern for Albanians living outside Albania, but of his desire to ensure the sufficient number of votes to remain in power. However, this attempt failed since it did not receive sufficient support.
When he was in the opposition Edi Rama totally rebranded the Socialists into a modern European left party, including its programme and ideology. Economic recovery, revival of the society, restoration of democracy and European integration are four key pillars of their programme, and the Albanian voters have accepted them very well. He managed to achieve some progress during the first two years of his term of office when he was regarded as a very promising Prime Minister. Besides the good programme, the Socialists' candidate list offered the combination of experience and youth. However, the initial enthusiasm has been lost and Edi Rama is increasingly mentioned in connection with “Albania's cannabisation”, organised crime and drug business, while Prime Minister Rama is trying to divert public attention from those problems by turning to nationalism and using nationalistic language.
In recent months Albania’s incumbent Prime Minister Edi Rama has been using nationalistic statements based on the idea of “Greater Albania”, which has triggered reactions in the neighbouring countries and their governments, especially in those that are home to numerous ethnic Albanians. Rama is doing the same as the former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha was doing before the previous parliamentary election, when he was talking about the unification of Albania and Kosovo.
Unification with Kosovo has become the subject of public debate. Until very recently the state of Albania did not have any expansion projects in place. In his last attempt to remain in power Edi Rama obviously has resorted to the Pan-Albanian idea, just as Sali Berisha (mis)used the celebration of the centenary of Albania's statehood in November 2012. This nationalistic language is damaging Albanian national interests.
Rama is playing with the statements on the unification with Kosovo, thus risking to provoke Serbia and open once again Pandora's box of Balkan nationalism. The nationalist ideas that Rama has started to support regardless of the consequences for the region are very dangerous. Macedonian politicians are complaining about Rama's interference into their internal affairs and inciting ethnic tensions by encouraging the Albanian community to keep making new and new demands. If the advocators of the Greater Albania idea had a free hand, they would surely soon be followed by the demands for Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia, and that could trigger new regional tensions and conflicts that may be even more devastating than the wars that raged in the Balkans in 1990s.
The official Washington has warned political parties and leaders to concentrate on priorities, and Euro-Atlantic integration is certainly one of them. Being a NATO member Albania must forget about any greater nationalistic projects. It should be noted that Kosovo has written in its constitution that it cannot be annexed to any other state.
Instead of dealing with the Greater Albanian concept, the new government will have to create a better economic environment for private sector investments. It will have to resolve numerous ownership issues, lacking rule of law, widespread corruption and underdeveloped infrastructure.
Analysts are of the opinion that Edi Rama is leading Albania in the wrong direction, mostly due to unfavourable economic situation with high unemployment rates, increasing costs of living and low wages and pensions that do not enable its citizens to live a decent life.
For the last year the political map of South-East Europe has been gradually changing from the right to the left political options.
According to data from the US State Department, cannabis production in Albania has increased five times in the last year. The drug business is becoming increasingly attractive. Prime Minister Rama did not manage to open the 300,000 new workplaces he promised before the last parliamentary election. Cannabis cultivation brings large financial profits to those who have no other possibility for making a living. On the other hand, the Albanian state has not offered any new possibilities to its citizens. It is estimated that the drug business has reached the level of almost a half of Albania's GDP.
Rama is no longer the favourite of the western states – the five-time increase of income from cannabis is not a result he cannot use to praise himself. During the last US election campaign Rama made some very critical statements against Donald Trump and expressed unambiguous support to Hillary Clinton. The upcoming parliamentary election will show whether Basha will be able to capitalise on Rama's weaknesses and become the new Albanian leader. However, who the new Albanian leader will be will greatly depend on the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) which will play the key role in the formation of the new government.
Analysts have pointed out that after having gained the candidate status for EU membership in 2014, the new Albanian government should distance itself from criticising international actors and promoting nationalistic ideas and the drug business, but instead focus on accelerating the fulfilment of conditions for full EU membership, intensifying the fight against organised crime and corruption and improving the legal standards in order to attract foreign and domestic investors.
Ljubljana, 22 June 2017