In-depth | Albania

Demagogy over ideology in Albania’s elections

By - 23.06.2017

Genuine political programs absent as Albania goes to polls.

This Sunday (June 25), Albania will hold general elections that are seen as crucial for the further development of the country. However, the means that the parties running have decided to use to convince voters seem different from those utilized in the past, as they are campaigning with no clear programs, focusing more on political battles between themselves.

The Socialist Party came to power in June 2013 thanks to an ambitious program, which at its core aimed to achieve political, economic and social changes throughout the country. They included some center-left ideas such as economic growth at over eight percent, creating 300,000 new jobs, reducing the public debt to 60 percent of GDP, favoring medium and small sized businesses through progressive taxation, increasing public security and offering free health care services.

However, unlike in past campaigns, this time the Socialist Party has given up on their political program and ignored their responsibility for their failure to implement key reforms, including their failure to create new jobs, their contribution to the increase of public debt (which surpassed 72.2 percent of GDP) as well as their failed healthcare reforms and war against corruption. In March, Albania was described by the U.S. State Department as a transit country for drugs, arms, illegal merchandise and human trafficking. A huge part of the country’s illegal income stems from trafficking, corruption among officials and fraud.

Edi Rama’s Socialist Party came to power in 2013, but have been criticized for not living up to their bold election promises.

Prime Minister Edi Rama promises to build a state with strong foundations and no political clientelism. The only thing he asks of the electorate is to give him the opportunity to govern alone, without their main ally, the Socialist Movement for Integration. Rama stigmatizes them by saying that they are at fault for the failure to achieve the country’s goals, applying the same treatment to other parties in the government’s coalition, including the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity.

“I would not be honest with this country and all of you if, before June 25, I didn’t warn you of the eminent danger [posed by the prospect of governing with other parties],” he announced to Socialist Party supporters, asking for a minimum of 71 parliamentary seats, six more than the 65 he held in the most recent legislature.

“If you do not trust us completely with the responsibility of steering the wheel of governance,” Rama continued, “then no one would vote for reforms [in parliament], and we would still have to endure party partisan employment as rewards.”

Though an anti-government feeling is bubbling in the country, the main opposition, the Democratic Party, don’t look set to capitalize.

The Democratic Party has also entered this election process facing a lot of criticism, since during the four years in which they were in the opposition, they have not managed to compile a convincing program for voters, one which would crystalize the anti-government spirit that is currently prevalent in the country.

There were even doubts over whether they would take part in elections, after their surprise decision to set up a tent-based protest in front of the prime minister’s office in Tirana in March, calling for Edi Rama to resign and to create a technical government with a broad base, so as to ensure free and fair elections.

After three months of intensive negotiations and insistence from high representatives of the U.S. and EU, the Democratic Party agreed to go to early elections; in exchange for ousting six ministers and the deputy prime minister, whom they consider to be potential threats that could negatively influence the election process. These officials were substituted by technical ministers that were proposed by the opposition.

This unexpected agreement and the huge doubts over whether the Democratic Party may be a part of a coalition with a broad base (led by Edi Rama) after the elections, have made for a reluctance to criticize the current majority.

The head of the Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, promises to lay the foundations for building a new republic, based on an economic program with a German model, with a flat tax rate of nine percent, an increase of pensions over the 25,000 Lek threshold, and free lunch for all pupils in the preschool system. However they do not offer details of how all this would function.

“Not having concrete programs enables them to ignore criticism over their unkept promises more easily, and as such they can stray away from public responsibility and the potential cost of letting people down, which would then influence the next elections.”

Afrim Krasniqi

“Our economic program will finally solve the crisis of the Albanian economy, as well as eradicate the apathy that is prevalent, and place our country on a path to accelerated development,” Basha told a meeting of local and foreign investors. “We will have the lowest taxes in the history of our 26-year-old democracy, all the while supporting honest entrepreneurship and investments.”

Referring to these points, political scientist Afrim Krasniqi explained why the two main forces have no clear political programs that would distinguish them from one another. “The main reason for this lack of political programs is the impossibility of keeping these promises, and as a result it is in their interest to not have public contracts with citizens,” Krasniqi told K2.0. “Not having concrete programs enables them to ignore criticism over their unkept promises more easily, and as such they can stray away from public responsibility and the potential cost of letting people down, which would then influence the next elections.”

Furthermore he added that the two big parties also have just about the same stance on 90 percent of the main economic and political issues, so focusing on programs would make them look the same and would make it impossible for them to identify themselves before the electorate.

This lack of political programs is also evident in the other two parties that have been part of the government coalition for the past four years, the Socialist Movement for Integration, and the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity. Self-declared as centrist parties, they have demonstrated that ideological issues are not their priority when it comes to being in power.

Newcomers the Libra Movement and Challenge for Albania hope to capitalize on the lack of political content espoused by the traditional parties.

Hope for new parties

Two of the new political parties that have attracted the electorate’s attention with their program-based approach, and who aim to benefit from this situation, are the Libra Movement and the Challenge for Albania.

The two parties aim to get the votes of people who feel let down by the Socialist and Democratic parties, targeting the middle class and the vulnerable, both of whom feel underrepresented according to the two new parties. They will also look to capture the imagination of Albania’s estimated up to 120,000 undecided voters.

The Libra Movement, which was created in April, is led by a former Socialist Party deputy, Ben Blushi. Often seen as an extremely leftist party, Libra is attempting to expose itself as an alternative in Albania’s narrow political spectrum. Through its program, titled “20 ideas for 2020,” it promises to strengthen direct democracy by organizing referendums, reducing taxes, doubling the budget for education, creating new jobs and stimulating foreign investment.

Meanwhile, the Challenge for Albania Movement was created in 2016, and its right wing political program supports the promotion of direct democracy, reducing taxes, limiting mandates for deputies, and removing those with criminal charges against them from politics. Unlike other parties, the Challenge Movement does not have a traditional leader, rather this role is divided between the administrative head, Hektor Ruci, and the political representative, Gjergj Bojaxhiu.

The former is a product of the Democratic Party, having left the party officially in 2013 with the justification that it lacks internal democracy. “The Challenge for Albania Movement believes in clean politics as the only means of achieving an Albania that works, Bojaxhiu highlighted in a discussion with Tirana’s citizens. “Your vote has maximum value if you vote for us.”

However, despite programs and the fresh spirit that new parties are attempting to bring, the head of the Leadership Institute in Tirana, Erion Piciri, thinks that they will find it hard to change the status quo in Albanian politics. “Their effect at a national level is expected to be weak, but they are expected to have a higher percentage in urban centers, especially Libra,” Pirici told K2.0. “Their electoral presence is not expected to bring back lost hope in politics, and it is expected that many people will not vote in these elections. For the first time it might be that less than 50 percent of the population turn out to vote.”K

Feature image: Courtesy of the Edi Rama official Facebook page.

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