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 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 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.”
Albania is a parliamentary republic with a unicameral parliament, the National Assembly. The National Assembly 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 a two-third majority of 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 2007, the President of Albania is Bamir Topi, a researcher who once served as agriculture minister and leader of the Democratic Party.
In 2009 the parliamentary election was held under a new electoral code, therefore the elections proceeded according to a regional-proportional electoral system, with closed candidate lists and proportional representation. Also the new electoral system introduced a threshold of 3% for single parties and 5% for coalitions at the constituency level. That 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.
On 8 May 2011 relatively calm and dignified local elections were held, following a violent campaign during which some candidates were beaten up. The electoral campaign had been marred by almost daily incidents between political supporters and activists. The clashes ranged from minor scuffles to exchanges of gunfire between supporters and the bombing of the home of an opposition candidate in Tirana. However, despite some minor incidents, the election day in Albania was “generally normal with some technical problems and incidents,” a coalition of local observers said. The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) released the turnout figure of nearly 50.9 percent. However, the counting process took more time than expected and the two biggest parties in Albania, Sali Berisha’s DP and the SP led by Edi Rama, both claimed victory at the end of the election day.
Preliminary results one week after the election day showed that Rama has triumphed over the Democratic Party candidate Lulzim Basha by only 10 votes in the crucial race for Tirana (Rama allegedly received 124.597 votes and Basha 124.587). The key race for the capital became even more important as other poll results showed that the Socialist opposition won most major urban areas in the country, apart from the cities of Shkodra and Lezha in the north. However, the CEC ordered the recount of the ballot boxes which have been flagged by DP commissioners at some of Tirana’s counting stations. As a consequence, on 27 June the CEC officially declared that with four votes in favour and two against, Basha the winner with a 93 vote advantage out of a quarter-million. The Socialists contested the commission's ruling and warned that they will ask the Electoral College to annul the poll because they believed that Rama won the election.
On 28 June 2009 parliamentary elections were held in Albania. After a lengthy counting process the Albanian Central Election Commission (CEC) announced that the coalition led by Prime Minister and leader of the DP Sali Berisha won a majority of votes and the largest share of seats in the National Assembly. Together with the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU) and the Republican Party of Albania (RPA) the DP formed and led the ‘Alliance for Change’. This right-wing alliance secured 70 seats in Parliament, while the Socialists gained 65 seats. The Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) won four seats and the Greek minority party the Union for Human Rights Party (UHRP) came in last with one seat. Because the DP alliance fell one seat short of taking the reins, for 71 seats are needed to form a government in the 140-seat National Assembly, it extended a hand to the LSI and the two parties formed a coalition.
Due to several cases of conflict and political parties filing complaints to the CEC about election fraud, the official election results came after nearly a month. Mainly the SP accused the ruling party of fraud. It claimed the DP was trying to influence the vote by declaring victory before the counting was completed. After the official results the SP rejected to recognise the outcome, also because the CEC rejected its request to do a recount in some smaller regions. Consequently, the Socialists started a Parliamentary boycott in September 2009. Prime Minister Berisha called on the opposition to build bridges with the next government in order to set a standard of cooperation necessary for the reforms required by the EU.
After the official election results were announced the Socialist were demanding an investigation into the alleged elections violations. However, Berisha refused to accept the Socialists’ demands, claiming the SP has exhausted all legal options and that he cannot override the judicial process. Therefore the Socialists were holding on to the Parliamentary boycott for several months. After a series of talks between President Bamir Topi, Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the Socialists, and assisted by a mission of the Council of Europe, the SP deputies decided to return to the Assembly on 25 February 2010. One of the reasons for the return was the constitutional limit for absence, which was almost at the end in February, and if the Socialists would remain absent after the limit would pass they would be fired and replaced by other party candidates on the electoral list.
After their return the SP continued a partial boycott of Parliament, voting on only a handful of laws in which the party had a specific interest, such as a December 2010 proposal to set up an investigative committee on the 2009 elections. This political deadlock has seriously hampered Albania's European Union aspirations. In November 2010, Albania was granted entry into the visa liberalization regime for the Schengen zone. However, at the same time the European Commission issued a negative opinion on Albania's application for EU candidate-country status and laid out a list of conditions that has to be fulfilled prior to the recognition of the candidate status of Albania.
|Party||Votes for the Party list||%||Mandate|
|Coalition 'Alliance for Change'|
|Democratic Party of Albania (DP)||610.463||40,18%||68|
|Party for Justice, Integration and Unitiy (PDIU)||14.477||0,95%||1|
|Republican Party of Albania (RPA)||31.990||2,11%||1|
|Union for Change coalition|
|Socialist Party (SP)||620.586||40,85%||65|
|Union for Human Rights Party (UHRP)||18.078||1,19%||1|
|Socialist Alliance Coalition for Integration|
|Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI)||73.678||4,85%||4|
Presidential elections 2007
In June 2007 Presidential elections were held as the mandate of the former President Alfred Moisiu expired. In Albania the president is elected by members of the Parliament, but in 2007 the leading political parties decided to defer the elections, opting instead for talks aimed at finding a consensus candidate. However, no consensus could be found between the opposition and the government and the political instability led to a political deadlock. While the ruling DP pushed for the candidacy of Bamir Topi, the opposition Socialist Party insisted that the president was to be chosen from the opposition bloc. After five voting rounds, were the opposition boycotted several election rounds, the political deadlock was finally broken when Mr. Topi was sworn in as the new President of Albania. The current President's term expires on July 23, 2012.
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.
After the 2009 parliamentary elections, 23 women (16,4% of total number of seats) entered the 140-seats Parliament. Compared to the previous mandate in 2005, this number increased when there were only 10 women MP’s. With the above percentage Albania is ranked 73th out of 188 countries. In the local elections of 2011 out of the 872 mayoral candidates only were female (2%).
Political participation of minorities is not high on the agenda in Albania, perhaps because Albania - in contrast to neighbouring countries - has not encountered any ethnic, racial or religious problem or conflict. Officially recognised are the Greek, Macedonian and Montenegrin national minorities, while the Roma and Aromanians are recognized and respected as linguistic minorities. However, in the 2009 electoral process, minority populations, notably Roma, continued to be marginalized and were subjected to election intimidation and attempted ‘vote buying’. According to the OSCE, further efforts are needed to improve their registration as voters and participants.
Socialist Party (SP)
Party Leader: Edi Rama
65 seats in parliament
The Socialist Party is the successor to the communist party, the Albanian Workers’ Party, during the communist time the sole legal political party in Albania. In 1991 the party participated in the first free elections and won a clear majority, 169 out of 250 parliamentary seats. However, the government that was formed after the election fell apart after a month, subsequently a committee of national salvation was formed but they also collapsed in half a year. In the national elections that thereafter were held in March 1992 the Socialists lost a large share of its supporters and the party was trumped by the Democratic Party; the SP won only 38 seats in 1992 and in the national elections in 1996 merely 10 seats.
According to the SP the parliamentary elections in 1996 were not free and fair. The party accused the Democratic Party of intimidation, the DP won 122 out of 140 seats in the first round, and international observers concluded that the elections did not meet the international standards nor the standards of Albanian law. In 1997 premature elections were held, due to a period of riots after failed financial investment schemes by the government. The elections meant a clear victory for the SP and with 101 seats the Socialist formed the government. In the parliamentary elections of 2001 the SP was again the majority with 73 seats in parliament.
The parliamentary elections of July 2005 meant a comeback for the Democratic Party, after the SP lost its majority with 42 seats and became subsequently an opposition party. Because of the election results the party leader of the SP and former PM Fatos Nano resigned in September 2005. Led by Nano the SP helped to reform the old communist party and under his leadership the SP became a member of Socialist International. The successor of Fatos Nano is Edi Rama, the former mayor of the capital Tirana between 2000 and 2011. With Rama a new era of development for the Socialist Party began, as he never had direct links with the former Stalinist regime.
The loss of the party in the elections of 2005 could be partially explained by a split within the SP itself. In the summer of 2003, Paksal Milo, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, split from the Socialist Party due to internal disputes about the party’s leadership. Milo formed a new party, the Social Democracy Party, and joined the government with this new party. In 2004 the former Prime Minister Ilir Meta left the SP as well, due to persistent disagreements with Fatos Nano, which led to the formation of the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI). In the elections of 2005 the two new socialist parties won respectively 2 and 4 seats in parliament.
In the June 2009 Parliamentary elections the SP won as individual party the highest number of votes, however, it was the centre-right coalition led by the Democratic Party that won a majority of votes and the largest share of seats in the Parliament. The SP became, with 65 seats, again an opposition party. The SP accused the government, and the DP in particular, of electoral corruption, called for a recount, and boycotted the National Assembly for several months.
Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI)
Party leader: Ilir Meta
4 seats in parliament
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.
Democratic Party of Albania (DPA)
Party leader: Sali Berisha
68 seats in Parliament
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
1 seat in Parliament
The Party for Justice, Integration and Unity is a merged political party which was formed as a union of the Party for Justice and Integration and the Party for Justice and Unity. The primary aim of PDIU is promotion of the national issues of Albanians, including Kosovo, Albanians in Macedonia, Montenegro and the Preševo Valley. Also the party pays especially attention to the promotion of the Cham issue, an issue which has been raised by Albania since the 1990s over the repatriation of the Muslim Cham Albanians, who where expelled from the north-western Greek region of Epirus between 1944 and 1945. In February 2011 the PDIU was founded as one party that represents the Cham Albanians in politics.
Republican Party (RP)
Party leader: Fatmir Mediu
1 seat in Parliament
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
1 seat in Parliament
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.
President of Albania
Bamir Topi was born on 24 April 1957 in Tirana. He was raised in a family of intellectual and civil traditions. He graduated from the Veterinary Medicine Faculty at the Agricultural University of Tirana. In 1984 he was appointed Scientific Researcher at the Institute of Veterinary Scientific Researches where he worked until 1995. Between 1987 and 1990, Topi attended post-graduate studies in Italy in the field of Molecular Biology and at the end of this education he obtained the title ‘Doctor of Sciences’.
Hereafter, Topi returned to Albania an was appointed Director of the Food Safety and Veterinary Institute and held this position until the end of 1995. In the same year, he obtained the title of ‘Professor’ following several scientific and pedagogical publications, and his academic activity in preparing the curricula of the Toxicology and Pharmacology subjects for students and postgraduates of the Veterinary Medicine Faculty.
Next to his pedagogical and scientific activities Prof. Dr. Topi was also politically active. In 1996, he was first elected as member of the Assembly of Albania on the list of the Democratic Party (DP). He was then appointed Minister of Agriculture. Topi held this position until 1997 but had to leave the post when the DP came in the opposition. Topi was elected for three mandates in the Parliament for the DP, and for two terms he was elected head of the DP Parliamentary Group. He was also chosen the vice-chairman of the DP. On 20 July 2007 Topi was elected President of Albania. He then resigned his position as vice-chairman of the DP and also withdrew from the party. Topi is portrayed as politically impartial. Throughout his activities, both political and public, Topi has been hailed for his moderate profile. Topi is known as a protagonist of political agreements and of different parliamentary initiatives. He has been quite active in trying to resolve the political crisis between the ruling majority and the opposition.
Prime Minister of Albania
Sali Berisha was born on 15 October 1944 in Tropoja, a town near the border of Kosovo. In 1967, he graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tirana. He finished his advanced studies in France and hereafter he conducted a research program on Hemodynamics (i.e. the study of blood flow).
In 1968, Berisha was elected member of the European Committee for Research on Medical Sciences. In 1971, he became member of the Albanian Communist Party, but focused his attention on science instead of politics. Between 1980 and 1990 he taught Cardiology at the University of Tirana and published several university textbooks and study books, as well as scientific articles on cardiology, both in Albania and outside the country. He obtained the title “Professor Doctor”.
In the 1990s, Berisha’s active involvement in politics started after he was elected head of the largest opposition party at that time, the Democratic Party of Albania (DP). He was first re-elected in 1997 and the years that followed, in 1991, 1997 and 2001 he was elected member of the Assembly of Albania. Berisha became known for his wide criticism against the old system in the country.
On 9 April 1992 Berisha was elected President of Albania, following the victory of the opposition coalition, which he headed. In his position as President between 1992 and 1997, Berisha contributed to reforms such as the transition to a market economy and several institutional reforms. Following this, he tried to strengthen the power of the Presidency and attempted to prevent members of the old regime from running in the Parliamentary elections in 1996. He then faced accusations of authoritarianism. On 3 February, 1997, he was nevertheless re-elected. In July that year, however, Berisha resigned from his Presidential post after the DP lost the 1997 Parliamentary elections. After this, he remained the chair of the DP. In 1998, he was accused of trying to stage a coup, after the murder of the DP politician, Azem Hadjari, and following demonstrations of his supporters. In September, 2005, following the Parliamentary elections, Berisha was appointed Prime Minister. He started his second term as PM in June, 2009, after his party won the elections.
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Leader of the Socialist Party of Albania
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