Election Surprise results and political change following Albanian elections

The 23 June 2013 parliamentary elections were an important test for Albanian democracy. Albanian elections have always fallen short of […]

Published on balticworlds.com on juli 15, 2013

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The 23 June 2013 parliamentary elections were an important test for Albanian democracy. Albanian elections have always fallen short of meeting national and international standards. The ability to conduct well-administered elections has been one of the criteria for EU membership which Albania has historically failed to meet. Previous elections have been marred by accusations of violation and refusal to accept election results, followed by political deadlocks.  Despite a tense pre-election period, the results were not contested, marking an important change and bringing the country a step closer to receiving EU candidate status.

Sixty-six political parties and two independent candidates participated in the elections, a very large number of electoral representatives for a small country with approximately 3,270,000 registered voters. Twenty-five parties ran under the umbrella of the Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration (AMPI) led by the center-right Democratic Party (PD), in government since 2005, and 37 ran under the umbrella of the Alliance for a European Albania (ASHE) led by the center-left Socialist Party (PS), in opposition. They are referred to as the Right and Left coalitions despite the fact that they included political parties from across the political spectrum: right wing, nationalist, communists, conservatives, liberals, greens etc. Both coalitions included mirror parties, some of which were created to garner votes from the same electorate and weaken the other.[1]

Such a large pool of diverse parties of sometimes opposing sides of the political spectrum within the same coalition is an indication that for many small parties ideology plays less of a role than political calculations. The electoral system encourages parties to form coalitions: it is a proportional system of 12 closed multi-member constituencies corresponding to the country’s 12 administrative regions -large political parties and coalitions fare better in Albanian elections than smaller groups. Consequently, 17 of the 22 political parties created since 2009 have participated in the elections, most of them within the two coalitions, in order to have a greater chance at electoral success.

Because of the formula for seat allocation, smaller parties have a bigger chance to garner seats with fewer votes while in coalitions than when they run alone, but this is also to the advantage of larger parties[2]. There is also a psychological element as to why smaller parties join coalitions.  Since 1992 the political landscape has been dominated by the PS and PD.  For many, voting for a smaller party means ‘wasting’ the vote as chances to garner enough voters leading to parliamentary representation are very few. The less militant electorate tends to vote ‘against’ rather than ‘for’ a party, by casting a protest vote in favor of one of the parties that has potential to shift power. The Albanian electorate has also proven to be quite conservative in party choices.  In practice this has always boiled down to a choice between PS and PD. Once in coalition with any of the two, the electorate is more prone to cast the vote for smaller parties as this will not be ‘wasted’. This explains why so many parties ran within the two coalitions rather than standing by themselves. In the past it has been so difficult for smaller parties to win seats that some of their leaders decided in this election to run in the candidate lists of PD and PS, instead of their own party, hoping for some degree of representation.

In practice the election campaign period started months before the official date. The campaign has been fierce and often involved negative propaganda and personal insults rather than pursuing an aggressive issue-based campaign. Following on from their long-standing animosity, the campaign of PD and PS was particularly hostile against each other, especially between the two party leaders, characterized by constant blaming and shaming. This is characteristic of a weak political culture that cannot provide concrete solutions and alternatives to the electorate. Many parties campaigned on vaguely articulated promises on similar issues such as unemployment, welfare, EU integration, and corruption. Political parties across the spectrum promised Albania’s entry into the EU, an uncontested issue that enjoys very high support from the public.

Although they ran in coalitions, parties campaigned mainly as single units. The media focused primarily on PD and PS. The PD, led by Sali  Berisha for 22 years, promised among other things to create jobs,to increase salaries and pensions, to reduce fiscal taxes for business and foreign investors, to continue developing road infrastructure and claimed to have built over 10,000 km of roads. The PS, led by Edi Rama, a former popular Tirana Major who gained the party leadership in 2005, campaigned on a similar program, promising jobs, zero taxes for 95% of the population and the introduction of a progressive tax.[3]

The tax issue was one of the few concrete issues of major debate between PD and PS, each claiming that the proposal of the opponent was unsound. The debate between Berisha’s support for the flat tax policy and Rama’s progressive tax policy is one of the few cases where parties truly reflected their positioning on the right and left of the political spectrum. Another heated discussion between the two parties was over the so called ‘three integration laws’ where Berisha blamed PS for impeding EU integration by not voting in amendments to three legal acts as requested by Brussels. They were finally voted in by parliament shortly before the elections.

The Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), led by Ilir Meta, focused its campaign mainly on unemployment. LSI is a PS splinter party formed in 2004 which attracted supporters from the left. In 2009, a dispute between Rama and Meta led to the two running in two different coalitions. LSI gained only four seats but it played a crucial role as kingmaker, forming a post-election coalition with PD, which did not have enough seats to form the government. This marriage of convenience left many disappointed but it gave LSI more than 20% of government positions. During its time in government LSI has struggled to create an electorate of its own, beyond the traditional left.

Clientelism and nepotism are two very widely spread phenomena in Albanian politics: parties that make it in government have an upper-hand in building their support base by replacing employees with their own supporters.

LSI’s decision to join the PS-led coalition three months before the elections sparked a series of events that very much aggravated the political situation and threatened the conduct of the elections. Berisha reshuffled the government by replacing LSI appointed ministers and personnel. Parliament also dismissed a member of the Central Election Commission (CEC) who had been appointed by the LSI, with the excuse of maintaining the balance of power between the government and the opposition four to three. There was no legal basis for discharging the member, as while CEC members are appointed politically they cannot be discharged on political grounds. In protest, the opposition withdrew its three members, leaving the CEC to operate up to today with four members. This inevitably created the impression that the CEC would be partisan and operate in favor of the government, which made for a very tense pre-election atmosphere with fears that the elections would be manipulated. The CEC issue drew much attention from the international community, in particular from the US and the EU, which indicated concern that results might be contested, possibly leading to another political deadlock such as the one in 2009 when PS did not enter parliament for two years in protest at the results. The EU urged the political parties to find a solution to make the CEC operational and repeatedly warned that the elections were a “crucial test for the country’s democracy and its progress towards the European Union”.[4]

A number of smaller parties drew some attention in the media, for example the Republican Party (PR) of the AMPI coalition, led by Fatmir Mediu. Established in 1991 and traditionally an ally of the PD, it has a weak support base of right wing supporters. Its slogan during the campaign was ‘Family, Property, Nation’ and ‘Belief in God’. The Unity for Human Rights Party (PBDNJ), created post 1991 and led by Vangjel Dule, continues to represent the interests of the Greek minority, concentrated mainly in the southern part of the county. Now in the ASHE coalition, it has occasionally shifted alliances from PS to PD. The New Democratic Spirit (FRD), led by former President Bamir Topi, established in 2012 following a falling out with Berisha, was expected to garner votes from the right wing electorate. FRD ran outside the Right coalition as a way to distance itself completely from PD and provide an alternative to it.

Two nationalist/populist parties received considerable attention. The Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU), led by Shpetim Idrizi, was created in 2011 by merging with the Cham[5] Party for Justice and Integration (PDI) which had one parliamentary seat in 2009.  With the slogan ‘We want Albania united’, PDIU advocated to solve ‘the Albanian question’ extending beyond the Cham issue. The Red and Black Alliance (AK), led by the former Deputy Chairman of the High Council of Justice Kreshnik Spahiu, was created in 2012 and made much noise because of its ultra nationalist agenda to unite Albania with Kosovo. Berisha also used nationalist rhetoric last year by alluding to the idea of a Great Albania, which alarmed the international community. Nationalism is not a strong phenomenon in Albania but it is used as a tool by parties to appear different or to bring something new, and attract support from unsatisfied voters who are tired of the usual political jargon while little happens to improve their lives. If however there is no change in the political culture it would not be surprising to see future gains for nationalist and populist parties, if they succeed in appearing to be the only supporters of people’s interests.

The number of women candidates in the election was around 40%. However, unlike in 2009, women occupied only a marginal space during the campaign and in the media, the latter in particular having a potentially detrimental effect on the public’s perception of women politicians. The three largest political parties, PS, PD and LSI were fined by the CEC for not having fully respected the legal provisions requiring that at least one person from a different gender is placed among the first three names on the candidate list and requiring the list to have at least 30% of a different gender. However their lists were accepted with no changes.

The media played an important role in the pre-election period. While it is true that no media company in Albania is entirely free from political influence, the media are pluralistic and there is a wide diversity. Airtime allocated by the electoral law was not always respected, in particular for smaller political parties. The media played an important role as a check and balance, revealing several cases of allegations of theuse of state institutions, vote buying, pressure to attend party meeting and rallies by employees. The national TV channel showed signs of bias in portraying the opposition in a more negative light than the government.

On Election day 53.5%, of voters went to the polls, a slightly higher number than in 2009. However, a large number of the eligible voting population lives abroad but cannot vote since there are no provisions for out-of-country voting.Election day was characterized by sporadic cases of violence, one which led to the death of a party supporter,and by some procedural irregularities such as late opening of polling stations, family voting, missing election material, procedures not being always followed etc.[6] According to the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Missionthere was a however a general respect for fundamental freedoms.[7]

Unlike previous elections, the CEC started to transmit election results almost immediately after counting thanks to a computerized system, diffusing any potential tensions. The results were unexpected. In March, public opinion poll results showed that the PD was leading by a small margin, with almost 50% of respondents saying they were not close to any political party, thus indicating a large percentage of undecided voters.[8] According to apoll conducted closer to Election day, the left coalition was leading by a small margin and the two main parties were looking to receive less than 40% of the votes.[9]

To everyone’s surprise, Election day results revealed a landslide victory for the ASHE and not a after all a tight race between the two coalitions. The only electoral subjects that gained seats were the two coalitions; AK and FRD were unsuccessful. The ASHE received 83 and the AMPI 57 of the 140 parliamentary seats, an unexpected difference between the two camps.[10] The results were a clear large-scale protest against the PD government, the continuous concentration of power and control of independent institutions by the Prime Minister, and the deteriorating economy of the country. No party in post-communist Albania has ever won a third mandate, and this election reiterated that.

What is remarkable is the number of seats the PD lost since the last elections, winning only 50 of its 68 seats from 2009. The AMPI lost in 10 out of 12 electoral zones. This was a major blow for PD which has always had the largest support base in the northern part of the country. PD remained the party with the largest number of votes in the north but with a considerably diminished support base.

PS electorate remained stable, as the party  received 65 seats, the same as in 2009. PS received most votes from the south of the country, where it traditionally has its strongholds. The surprising result was that of LSI, which won16 seats in comparison to four in 2009, establishing it as thus the true third force and a kingmaker for future governments. As in 2009 the largest party will not be able to form governments without LSI. An emerging new pattern shows that PS and PD no longer have the absolute support required to form governments by themselves. It is too early to judge whether this is the result of the change in the electoral system in 2009.[11]PR and PDIU from the AMPI coalition gathered three and four seats respectively, as opposed to one in the previous elections. Their increased votes came from former PD supporters who were dissatisfied with the leadership of Berisha. The PBDNJ party of the ASHE coalition received one seat, as in 2009, from its electoral base in the south of the country. The Christian Democratic Party of Albania[12]made a surprise first entry in these elections winning one seat. It had benefited from the electoral system, winning its mandate in Shkoderwith fewer votes than other parties garnered in other electoral zones. In terms of gender representation the new parliament is expected to have only 25 women, far from the aimed for 30%. 

The post-voting period was calm, albeit with some but not widespread allegations of manipulations. The atmosphere in the post-election period was in complete contrast to the tense pre-election day period. Three days after the elections, Prime Minister Berisha accepted defeat and resigned from the PD leadership, after 22 years. The move, which came as a surprise to many, might create a crisis for the PD electorate who associate Berisha very strongly with the party. In the coming weeks the party will elect a new leader.

Unlike previous elections the results were not contested by the losing party, probably because of the large difference between the votes of the incumbent and the opposition. Nevertheless, while not perfect, these elections set an important and positive precedent for the future, and may even bring a change in the political culture. The international community congratulated Albania for its conduct of the elections. The road towards European Union membership now depends on the measures taken by the new government.

Name of party Number of Seats per party out of 140
Alliance for a European Albania (ASHE) 83 (PS-65, LSI-16, PBDNJ-1, PKDSH-1)
Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration (AMPI) 57 ( PD-50, PDIU-4, PR-3)

 


references

  1. For example both coalitions have Christian Democratic parties, a Greek minority party and a Cham party.
  2. The formula of seat allocation, the d’Hondt formula for allocation of seats between parties/coalitions and Sainte-Laguë within coalitions, makes it easier for parties to gain seats within coalitions as the threshold decreases.
  3. Albania has a flat tax policy since 2007.
  4. Statement by High Representative Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Stefan Füle on the parliamentary elections in Albania on 23 June 2013,last accessed on 28 June 2013, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-574_en.htm
  5. The Cham are an Albanian ethnic group who lived in Greece but were ousted during WWI and who consequently lost their property, which they would like to reclaim.
  6. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACEOSCE ODIHR), Statement Of Preliminary Finding And Conclusions, last accessed on 28 June 2013, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/103068 p. 12-13
  7. Ibid, p. 1
  8. Gazeta Shqip, Sondazhii ‘Soros: 22.7% e Shqiptarëve ndihen pranë PD, 19.6 % me PS, 1.4 % me FRD dhe 1.2 % me AK’(Soros: 22.7% of Albanians feel close to PD, 19.6% to PS, 1.4 to FRD and 1.2 to AK), 26 March 2013, last accessed on 28 June 2013 http://gazeta-shqip.com/lajme/2013/03/26/sondazhi-i-soros-22-7-e-shqiptareve-ndihen-prane-pd-se-19-6-me-ps-1-4-me-frd-dhe-1-2-me-ak/
  9. Ora News, ‘Sondazhi, e majta përpara te djathtës’ (Opinion poll, the left ahead of the right), 1 June 2013, last accessed on 28 June 2013,http://www.oranews.tv/puntate/sondazhi-e-majta-perpara-te-djathtes/
  10. These are preliminary results and official results are still to be announced by the CEC.
  11. Prior to 2009 the electoral system was a mixed member proportional representation where 100 MPs were elected through a majoritarian system and 40 through nationwide proportional representation.
  12. This should not be confused with the Christian Democratic Party, which was part of the PD-led coalition.
  • by Arba Murati

    Arba Murati is an election expert. She has worked in election observation missions and electoral assistance projects in Albania, Bulgaria, Kenya, Egypt, Congo DRC and Guinea Conakry.

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  • Election coverage

    Baltic Worlds is commenting on the parliamentary and presidential elections taking place in countries around the Baltic Sea region and in Eastern Europe. The comments and analyses present the parties, the candidates and the main issues of the election, as well as analyze the implications of the results.

    Sofie Bedford, member of the scientific advisory board, is since 2015 arranging the election coverage.

    Contact: sofie.bedford@ucrs.uu.se