Albania’s application for membership to the European Union on 28 April 2009 was an important landmark for a country that 20 years ago had emerged from a communist rule as one of the poorest, most isolated, most repressive and most inscrutable in Europe. Moreover, Albania’s transition to a democracy and a market economy had been launched under challenging circumstances during a period of extreme instability in the Western Balkans. The conclusion of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU in 2006 showed that Albania is willing to move to “Brussels”, and since then progress has been made on many fronts.
Nevertheless tremendous roadblocks sill lie ahead for Albania on its road to EU accession. For instance the country shows some severe internal problems that could slow down the process of modernization. Corruption is, for example, still a big challenge and is damaging the country’s economic potential in a serious way. Also the elections in Albania still do not meet all the international democratic standards according to the OSCE. Both the parliamentary election of 2009 and the local election of 2011 were observed by the OSCE, and although the elections marked tangible progress and various improvements, the observers noted that these improvements were overshadowed by the politicisation of technical aspects of the process. Also various violations were observed during the campaign, which undermined public confidence in the electoral process.
After the parliamentary election of 2009 the Socialist Party (SP) refused to acknowledge the official results due to the alleged fraud by the ruling Democratic Party (DP). However, the Central Election Commission– that is internally divided among political lines – rejected the request from the SP to do a recount in some smaller regions. Consequently the SP started a parliamentary boycott, and for nearly two years the Socialist were on and off boycotting the parliament as a protest against the election result. The Socialist Movement for integration (LSI) joined the DP led coalition but withdrew in April 2013, a month ahead of the June 2013 elections, to join the Socialist coalition. The local elections on May 8 of 2011 could have broken the political deadlock, if the elections would take place smoothly. However, when the preliminary results showed that the SP received the highest number of votes in most municipalities, the race for the votes in Tirana became crucial. The preliminary results showed SP leader Edi Rama as the winner in Tirana, but after a controversial recount of lost ballots, the Democratic candidate Lulzim Basha was named as the winner of the local elections.
The Socialist Party started again a parliamentary boycott, but in September 2011 the SP decided to return to parliament because the party did not want to block the European integration process of Albania. The SP is needed in parliament for a two-thirds majority that the Albanian constitution demands for several important judicial reforms. Socialist leader Edi Rama declared that he does not wish to block the entry of the country into the EU. Holding elections in accordance to democratic standards is seen by many observers as crucial to the country’s EU accession hopes. Most elections that Albania has held since 1991 have failed to meet international OSCE election standards, which is a stumbling block on the country’s road to EU integration. Therefore, the Albanian local elections 2011 were seen as a test of the Balkan country’s readiness to apply for European Union membership status, the first step towards membership of the bloc. Consequently, Prime Minister Sali Berisha, under EU pressure to provide proof that Albania is a functioning democracy, rushed to call the polls of May 2011 “the best elections ever held.
With the win of the left-wing Alliance for a European Albania at the 2013 Parliamentary elections, PM Sali Berisha’s longest rule since the collapse of the Communist regime in Albania has ended. Being active in politics for over 20 years, serving as president and prime minister, Berisha won the 2005 elections on a campaign promising to rid the country of corruption. In 2009 the SP did not recognize the narrow election win of Berisha’s DP due to alleged elections fraud. Consequently, Albania ended in a political crisis for most of the time between 2009 and 2013, characterized by boycott of the parliament by the SP, mass street protests, further political and societal polarization and standstill in the EU integration process. It took some time after the 2013 election results came in until Berisha conceded defeat on 27 June: “We lost this election and the responsibility falls only on one person, Sali Berisha,” he said. “I have decided to resign from all my leadership positions in the Democratic Party but stay on as a member and as an MP,” he added.
President and electoral system
Albania is a parliamentary republic with a unicameral parliament, the National Assembly. It consist of 140 members elected for a four-year term, and under the constitutional guidelines a government can be formed if a party or a coalition of parties gathers at least 71 seats in the National Assembly. The head of state in Albania is the president, who is elected for a five-year term by the parliament. The President has no legislative or executive power, but represents the state in foreign relations, and is chief commander of the army. Since July 2012, the President of Albania is Bujar Nishani, who was member of the Democratic Party (DP), MP and Minister of Interior before being elected president. He was elected by the National Assembly with a simple majority (73 out of 140 votes), not being supported by the opposition.
Albania has a regional proportional voting system divided into 12 electoral regions. Capital Tirana, which is the largest region population-wise, elects 32 MPs. Political parties nominate an MP list for each region for the total number of seats. According to the electoral code, 30 % of the candidates in the top tier of the lists should be women, a rule that few parties respected in the June 2013 parliamentary elections. The President of the Republic is elected by the parliamant to serve a 5-year term. The Prime Minister is approved by the president with the approval of the parliament.The 12 electoral constituencies correspond to the country's 12 administrative regions. Within any constituency, parties must meet a threshold of 3%, and pre-election coalitions must meet a threshold of 5%. This is a concequence of the new electoral code introduced in 2009. The threshold has been largely criticized because of the obstacle that it presents to smaller parties. In fact, of all the political parties in Albania only the SP and the DP favoured the new electoral system. Smaller parties contended that the reform served only the interests of those two main parties, while largely if not totally excluding small parties from entering the parliament.
The centre-left coalition headed by the SP declared after the June 2013 elections that all cabinet ministers will resign their parliamentary seats to provide for a better separation of power, and checks and balances, between the government and the legislative branch.
Coalition 'Alliance for a European Albania'
% of the votes
Socialist Party (SP)
Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI)
Christian Democratic Party (CDP)
Coalition 'Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration'
Democratic Party of Albania (DP)
Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU)
Republican Party of Albania (RPA)
Unity for Human Rights Party (UHRP)
New Democratic Spirit (NDS)
Gender and minority political participation
The situation concerning women’s issues remains worrisome. Despite the considerable number of women’s NGOs, their political influence continues to be restricted. It is disturbing that political parties, despite existing gender structures, do not meet their own criteria of women’s participation in candidate lists for elections. Some improvement has been seen in the lists of 2013 parliamentary elections. According to the electoral code, 30 % of the candidates in the top tier of the lists should be women. Most of the female candidates were relegated to the bottom of political party’s candidate lists. However, because Albania’s political parties broke the law for gender quotas, when MPs nominated as ministers will resign they will be replaced by female candidates, although they are not listed in the top tier of the candidate list. Article 175 of the electoral code spells out that when a political party does not meet gender quotas, the Central Election Commission (CEC) sanctions that “any replacement of a vacancy in the party’s MP list will come from the gender less represented”.
After the 2009 parliamentary elections, 23 women (16,4% of total number of seats) entered the 140-seats Parliament, while the National Assembly after the 2013 election will have 30 women. One of them is the 20 years old Kejdi Mehmetaj of the LSI, she is the youngst MP ever in Albania.
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Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI)
Party leader: Ilir Meta
The Socialist Movement for Integration was formed as a splinter party from the SP after Ilir Meta quit the Socialist Party due to a disagreement about the re-election of Fatos Nano during a party Congress in December 2003. Ten other deputies, among which popular ex-members of the chairmanship, joined the movement. The LSI announced its conversion into an independent political party in a founding Congress in September 2004. In the June 2009 Parliamentary elections the LSI won 4 seats, and joined the Democratic Party led alliance to form a government coalition. In the run up to the election the reform of election law was discussed which would increase the threshold to get into parliament. This increase, supported by the SP, could have left LSI out of the parliament.
The LSI is a social-democratic party in nature, oriented towards a liberal market economy that operates and progresses within a social welfare state. The party is based on social democratic values and the core objective is: a cohesive Albanian society integrated into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.
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Democratic Party of Albania (DPA)
Party leader: Lulzim Basha (mayor of Tirana)
The Democratic Party of Albania is a centre-right political organisation and the main governing party since 2005. The DP is an observer member of the European People’s Party (EPP), the European umbrella for centre-rights parties, and a full member of the Centrist Democrat International.
The Democratic Party was founded in 1991 following student demonstrations that brought down the communist regime. DP was the first opposition party to be formed after the fall of the one-party system. Since the formation the party has been controlled by Albania’s current Prime Minister Sali Berisha. During his first time in government -between 1992 and 1997- Berisha tried to increase presidential power but was accused of trying to impose an authoritarian regime. He also introduced changes towards a market economy, which only favoured a small percentage of the population, while the majority Albanians lived in still harsher poverty. When in 1997 snap elections were called to pacify a civil unrest that broke out following the bankruptcy of a series of pyramid-style investment schemes, the DP became an opposition party.
The style of the DP has always been one of confrontation. Only in recent years -after significant pressure by the United States and the European Union- the party has adopted a more co-operative behaviour. In the period out of office, Berisha has retained his seat in parliament, but frequently boycotted the body in protest at alleged government corruption and incompetence. He often accused the incumbent government of Prime Minister Fatos Nano of masterminding a number of murders and assassination attempts on opposition politicians.
In the parliamentary elections of 2001 the Democratic Party formed and led the Union for Victory Coalition (UfV), a coalition of right-wing political parties. The four partners were Movement of Legality Party (ML), Republican Party (RP), National Front (NF) and Liberal Democratic Union (LDU). The UfV alliance won 46 seats in parliament, against 73 seats for the Socialist Party. The remaining 21 seats were allocated among five small parties.
It was not until the parliamentary elections of 2005 that the DP regained their power. In the elections the party won 56 seats in parliament, and together with other small rightist parties, it formed the government and enjoyed a comfortable majority in the parliament. In the elections of 2009 the DP received 67 seats, however, still not enough to form a majority. Sali Berisha chose his former socialist opponent Ilir Meta and his LSI to form a coalition, and for the first time in the political history of Albania, a centre-left party coalition was formed. The LSI were offered three important ministerial portfolios, namely foreign affairs, economics and healthcare. Not surprisingly, Rama’s SP loudly criticized the newly-formed coalition, considering LSI’s alliance with Berisha as a betrayal of the left.
Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU)
Party leader: Shpëtim Idrizi
Republican Party (RP)
Party leader: Fatmir Mediu
The Republican Party of Albania is a right-wing, national conservative political party. The party was founded in 1991 and as the name suggests, the RP chose the United States Republican Party for their political role model. Therefore the political ideology of the party is closely based on conservative, free market and many other right wing policies. In the 2005 parliamentary elections the RP received 11 of the 140 seats, as part of the Alliance for Freedom Justice and Welfare (AFJW), making it the third largest political party in Albania. However after the elections of 2009 the number of seats of the Republican Party decreased to one.
Unity for Human Rights Party (UHRP)
Party leader: Vangjel Dule
The Union for Human Rights Party is a centrist-liberal political grouping that represents minorities in Albania and is mainly related to the ethnic Greek minority. It was formed in 1992 as an offspring of Omonoia -the organisation representing the Greeks- after the Albanian parliament banned organisations from running for elections, and only allowed political parties and independents to do so. Since its founding UHRP was led by Vasil Melo, but since his dead in 2002 the political party is ruled by Vangjel Dule. It has been continuously present in the parliament with three seats in the 1997 election, two in 2005 and one in the election of 2009.
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Edi Rama was born on 4 July, 1964. At the time the Communist regime fell, Rama was a professor at the Albanian Academy of Arts. In 1995, he received a scholarship and moved to Paris. In 1998, he returned to Albania and was appointed Minister of Culture by the acting Prime Minister, a position he held until 2000. At that time he was not yet member of the Socialist Party of Albania (SP).
In October 2000, Rama ran in the local elections in Tirana as an independent candidate, yet supported by the SP. With 57% of the votes he was elected mayor of Tirana. Many of Rama’s most clear policies were aimed at transforming the appearance of the capital and its atmosphere. Rama united with students to improve the surroundings of the city and with the Clean and Green Project he created 96,700 sq meters of green land. In December 2003 and in February 2007 Rama was re-elected for his second and third term, despite criticism he had faced.
In October 2002 Rama was awarded for his work in the field of environmental issues, which have contributed to the fight against poverty. The award was granted by the United Nations’ General Secretary, Kofi Annan. In 2004, Rama was chosen World Mayor 2004 and in 2005 he was included in Time Magazine's list of European Heroes.
Rama joined the SP in October 2003. Two years later, he replaced Fatos Nano as the leader of the SP, after the party was defeated in the elections. He was re-elected as the party’s leader in September, 2009. The vote was called after the SP lost the general elections on 28 June, 2009, to the Democratic Party.
Rama was one of the founders of the Democratic Movement, which took part in bringing about the collapse of the communist state between 1990 and 1992. He was a founding member of the Movement for Democracy, a political group which played a determining role in the struggle for democracy during 1996 and 1997. Rama has written several articles and analysis for newspapers and magazines. He is also author of different personal painting exhibitions in Europe, North and South America.
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
OSCE Election Observation Mission Report
OSCE Presence in Albania
United Nations Development Programme
Human Development Report
Wikipedia on Albania
Wikipedia Parliamentary elections 2009
Wikipedia Local elections 2011
BBC Country Profile Albania
International Crisis Group: Albania page
CIA World Factbook – Albania
Transparency International CPI