In a tight election, which was too close to call shortly after it took place on April 25, the Socialist Party (PS) of Prime Minister Edi Rama has secured itself another term as Albania’s ruling party. Even though there were quite some irregularities on election day and during the election campaign, fundamental freedoms were respected, according to international observers. The pre-election coalition, of the Democratic Party (PD) and Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), was in the end unable to topple Rama’s sitting government. This despite the fact that recent polls were tipping in its favour. The PD has not officially conceded defeat, such as the LSI has done, but political stability seems to be within reach.
Patience for election result was necessary after tight race
In the weeks before the election polls were unable to predict a clear winner, with some suggesting a PS win, some suggesting that the PD-LSI coalition would gain a majority of the votes, and more recent polls even hinting at PD win. With all the votes counted on April 28, it has become clear that the PS has won 48,6% of the votes. The PD gained 39,5% of the votes and the LSI merely 6,8%. The minor Social Democratic Party of Albania (PSD) gained 2,3% of the vote share. This meant that the PS maintained its majority in parliament, winning 74 out of a total of 140 seats. In the 2017 elections the party also won 74 seats. The PD increased is share of seats by 13, gaining 59 seats. The election also saw the LSI lose 15 of its political mandates, now only having 4 seats. The PSD increased its number from 1 to 3 seats.
Also on elections day the race remained tight, with the election commission declaring that it was too early to call a winner. Despite this, the party leader of the PD, Lulzim Basha, declared a victory of the PD-LSI coalition shortly after the exit polls had come in late on April 25. However, the more votes came in, the more the results started to tip in favour of Prime Minister Rama’s PS. Only late on April 27 did Rama feel comfortable enough to declare his victory and did so on Facebook, later also holding an official speech. With a solid election campaign, Rama was able to secure himself a third term. The PD became the election’s biggest winner, but was only able to gain many votes to the decrement of its coalition partner LSI, which heavily lost.
Rama’s plans for his third consecutive term
With Rama’s PS gaining 74 seats, the current government can remain in power. In his victory speech late on April 27 Rama claimed his most “most difficult but sweetest victory”. He suggested that he “broke the record” with this mandate for his “historic third term”. Rama vowed to make Albania the “Balkan champion, in tourism, energy, agriculture and in fast, qualitative, incorruptible digital services”. He also repeatedly promised government improvements. The country is currently battling an inefficient bureaucracy, corruption, high emigration, with authoritarianism on the rise during Rama’s previous eight years in power. Albania remains one of Europe’s poorest and most corrupt countries and, as many other countries, is struck hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The elections were important with regards to Albania’s candidacy for European Union (EU) membership. Especially PD opposition leader Basha, and his coalition partner, were outspoken proponent of reforming Albania’s institutions so to align better with the EU’s demands. There are still quite some hurdles to be taken by Albania on its path towards EU membership, something which 97% of Albanians desire. Even though Rama has been working towards Albania’s EU membership, he has also been critical of the EU’s hesitant stance towards Albania’s EU membership. The EU has become more critical of enlargement, something which has irritated Rama. However, during the election campaign he was also accused by Basha of making too little progress with the EU during his last two terms when it comes to reforms himself.
Heated election campaign
Despite the country’s COVID-19 restrictions, the elections campaign turned out to be hectic. The deep-routed rivalry between the PS and DP even turned violent in the final week before the election. A gunfight in a city near the country’s capital Tirana turned deadly, with one Socialist supporter being killed and four others injured. Rama and Basha traded barbs throughout the campaign, heating up the rivalry. Rama suggested Basha was a puppet of President Ilir Meta (LSI) and accused both of “having no policies”, while Basha responded by accusing Rama of vote-rigging and corruption. When President Meta stated that “pitchforks” would be ready in case the PS attempted to tamper with the votes, international actors condemned the statements and reminded all “to accept the judgement of voters when the count is finalised”.
Political stability in reach
After initial attacks on his rivals, Rama struck a more moderate tone later in the campaign, calling on his rival Basha to join his “national mega project”. The DP bluntly rejected this outreach, illustrating the deeply rooted rivalries. As mentioned, the sharp divisions between Rama, Basha and President Meta manifested itself in a confrontational rhetoric and even violence between supporters. For the sake of political stability in the country, it is to hope that the opposition parties take up their political mandates. Two years after the 2017 general elections the PD and LSI boycotted parliament, putting a strain on the legitimacy of Rama’s government. After President Meta spoke of “captured institutions” on April 27, Rama urged other parties to show “maturity and composure”.
When all the votes had been counted on April 28, the party leader of the LSI and wife of President Meta, Monika Kryemadhi, held a speech in which she conceded defeat. This paved the way for political stability. However, she was quick to say that she congratulated the oligarchs and gangs in the first place. She also claimed that of the unprecedented number of 81,000 invalid votes, 70% were LSI votes. These statements did put some strain on the sincerity of her concession speech. Basha and the DP have yet to officially concede defeat. Basha has not made himself heard after this victory declaration on April 25. On April 28, several high placed DP members did already demand Basha’s resignation, after blaming him for the “election defeat”. Without widespread claims of election fraud, political stability seems to be in reach.
The joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE PA and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), observed the election. Their report stated that the counting process was accompanied by smaller incidents, with vote-buying remaining a significant problem. Some PS officials also took advantage of their governing positions, blurring the lines between the party and the government. During the heating campaign there were also concerns that the media failed to properly inform voters on the different political viewpoints of the parties. However, observers praised the “lively and inclusive campaign” and the “legal framework that helped ensure respect of fundamental freedoms”.
Image: Flickr (Edi Rama with Federica Mogherini, 2017)