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Opposition loses drastically in Albanian by-elections

The protagonists of the diffused opposition: Lulzim Basha (left) and Sali Berisha (right)

On Sunday March 6, Albania organized by-elections in six municipalities, in which new mayors are elected. Several officials who were elected in 2019 had resigned over criminal allegations or other reasons, causing elections to be prescribed by President Ilir Meta in January. It resulted in an expected blow to the country’s opposition, and a big win to the incumbent Socialist party of Albania (PS), of PM Edi Rama.

Elections were arranged in Skhodra, Durrës, Lushnje, Diber, Vora and Rrogozhine. Turnout was 29.63%, as published by The Central Election Commission. In five of the six municipalities, PS won. In Shokdra, a large municipality in the north of Albania, the ‘Freedom House’ coalition won, causing the largest opposition party in Parliament, the Democratic Party of Albania (PD) to stay empty-handed.

Opposition in crisis

Last January, the center-right PD was rocked by infighting between its current leader Lulzim Basha, and the previous leader Sali Berisha. Berisha is a long-serving politician in the country, and the former PM and president. In May 2022, he was sanctioned by the U.S. for various forms of corruption, after which the PD entered a deep crisis. It resulted in a dramatic party split, with Berisha forming a new wing of the PD, which collaborated with the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) under the banner of ‘’House of Freedom’’. This coalition and Basha’s main PD party now effectively split the vote, and could not properly organize themselves for these elections.

Albanian PM Rama wins

For the PS, and the incumbent PM Rama, the clashes in the opposition result in an important, sensitive victory. Rama reacted delighted: “Yesterday’s election gave the Socialist Party neither more nor less than what we expected. Five out of six municipalities in the race … with an even bigger gap in votes over our rivals than our projections showed.” Next elections in Albania will be municipal elections in June 2023. For the time to come, Rama’s party is set to benefit from the diffused opposition.

Internal struggle in PD to continue

Basha has indicated that he does not intend to resign. He reacted that the election were “an anomaly”, indicating that the country needs election reform first. “Today we have a political system that serves some politicians who have turned it into a force that enriches them…and impoverishes the citizens.” For now, it is his sixth consecutive electoral loss as leader of PD.

While PM Rama’s focus already shifted on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the internal struggle in the PD seems far from over. Berisha has indicated that he does not wish to found a new party, and seems to have the popular support in the party. However, Basha has expelled him from the party headquarters. For the time to come, Berisha seems prepared to re-gain party lead at all costs.

Sources: I Balkan Insight I II Balkan Insight II

Photo: Flickr (left) Flickr (right)