Democratic Empowerment and Transnational Threats

Albania at crossroads ahead of local elections: An easy win for an even easier loss

Only two days separate us from the local elections in Albania, which have been at the centre of a crisis that has locked the country in uncertainty for the last months. While there is an open clash between institutions – the President Ilir Meta has tried to cancel the election date of 30 June set by himself, and the Prime Minister Edi Rama is vying for holding elections this Sunday – the opposition parties (the Democratic Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration) have left the Parliament, renouncing to their mandates.

The Socialist Party – which holds the absolute majority of the seats in the Parliament, and thus formed two years ago the first ever one-colour government in the democratic era of Albania – has been campaigning for the last months with the aim of winning as much local municipalities as possible in this Sunday’s programmed administrative elections. The SP leader and Prime Minister Edi Rama is confident that his party will be the absolute winner of these elections. Indeed, after the boycott of the major opposition parties, Socialist candidates will be running alone in 31 out of 61 municipalities, and in the remaining ones they will face independent or minor parties’ candidates.

These “unilateral” elections, although expected to be an easy win for the governing Socialist Party, can prove to become an even easier loss for the whole Albanian society, opening an uncertain and unstable phase during a delicate time for the future of the country. Indeed, the political stalemate was also harshened by the EU Council conclusions of 18 June to postpone the decision regarding the opening of EU accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia to October 2019. Definitely not a good signal for Albanian society, entrapped between lack of progress towards European membership and domestic turmoil.

The Albanian political life of the past few months has been tainted by an institutional crisis bringing the country to the edge of a deadlock. The opposition parties (DP and SMI) have left the Parliament and, through the organisation of many public protests with many supporters, are pushing for the creation of a technical and independent government: the only way through which they believe the country could have free and transparent elections. Indeed, the opposition parties accuse Edi Rama, government officials, and Socialist Party members of having links with organised crime, thus enabling a general control of the results of the elections. After their leave, the empty seats were filled by “dissident” politicians coming from minor or those same parties.

The elections were decided to be held on 30 June by a decree from the President Ilir Meta, former leader of the SMI, who then cancelled the date with another decree after political pressure from the opposition parties, whom the SMI is part of. Moreover, the current leader of the SMI is Monika Kryemadhi, Meta’s wife. Therefore, the Socialist Party group in the Parliament initiated a no-confidence procedure in order to remove Meta from his office on the grounds of lack of impartiality and political influence and interference with the office of President. In the last months President Meta tried to foster dialogue between the different parties and actors, opting also on Thursday for the postponement of the local elections in October in assurance of a longer period of preparation for truly free and transparent elections.

In the meantime, the United States of America (which have always been very influential in the political affairs of the country) have supported the unwinding of the elections on 30 June. In contrast to this newest Presidential decree, the US government through the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Mr. Matthew Palmer, expressed its firm willingness to recognise this Sunday as the official day of the local elections in Albania. After the elections, it will be very important to constitute once again a Constitutional Court in the country in the midst of an overarching and comprehensive justice reform.

However, in the country tensions have been mounting exponentially, also leading to the outburst of violent episodes such as the one in the village of Bushat (in municipality of Vau i Dejes, near Shkoder) in the northern part of the country. As written in the official note of the Albanian Police, on Thursday evening nearly 250 people (allegedly supporting the Democratic Party) attacked a school (seat of one of the voting posts) with hard objects and Molotov bombs. In the attack three police officials remained wounded and all the elections’ documents were burned. On the other hand, the Democratic Party dismissed any connection with the attackers, stressing how the DP electors only protested peacefully against an illicit election. The ongoing protests and the fear of violence escalation are already hitting Albania’s society and economy, since many tourists are now afraid to visit the country, reflected in the declining visitors’ numbers during the month of May. Albanian economy relies heavily on the touristic sector and thus the first negative outcomes of the crisis can already be felt by Albanian citizens.

Until all events (mainly during and in the days and weeks immediately after the elections) unfold, it will remain unclear the degree of influence that the political crisis will have on Rama’s government. However, the main factors will most probably be the following ones: the lack or presence of violent episodes on Sunday; the (lack of) recognition of the elections by international observers, bodies, and organisations; the ability of the opposition parties to organise further massive protests after Sunday; and the outcome of the no-confidence procedure towards the President of the Republic Ilir Meta. The worsening of the stalemate in the past few months has put Edi Rama in a difficult spot. However, he can count on the support of foreign countries and international actors and organisations, since in view of many he still represents one of the few politicians in Albania that can grant domestic and regional stability.

By Fabio Seferi

Fabio holds a Master's Degree in International Relations and European Studies from the University of Florence, Italy. His Master's thesis focused on the role and influence of Russia, Turkey and China in the Western Balkans. He has been Programme Assistant Intern at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, and Ad-Hoc Research Assistant for The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. Fabio’s main research interests focus on conflicts, political violence, hybrid warfare, intelligence analysis and organised crime.

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