Albanian Political Failings

Albania's political shortcomings are exposed in the build-up to local elections.

Albanian Political Failings

Albania's political shortcomings are exposed in the build-up to local elections.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Nearly a decade after the arrival of multi-party democracy, serious problems still bedevil Albanian politics.

Party dependence on political strongmen, inadequate legislation and the politicisation of the electoral process are clearly undermining the democratic process.

A report by the International Crisis Group, ICG, in August listed several problems which could prompt the opposition to reject the results of the municipal poll on October 1.

The principal areas of concern are the composition of the Central Electoral Commission, CEC, and the recent division by the Socialist-led government of the Tirana municipality.

Opposition parties have accused President Rexhap Meidani of turning the CEC into a politically partisan body geared to helping the Socialist Party rig the elections.

The leader of the opposition Democratic Party Sali Berisha recently accused the government of removing as many as 400,000 of his party's supporters from the electoral rolls. Prime Minister Ilir Meta rejected the charge.

The Democratic Party argues that reconfiguring the CEC, with one representative from each of the seven most successful parties in the 1997 general election, would give the body more legitimacy.

The Socialist-controlled parliament's recent introduction of a law dividing Tirana into 11 municipalities is also a thorny issue.

Bashkim Fino, a former Socialist prime minister and now Minister for Local Government, said Tirana's division would give more autonomy to local government as well as improve overall management of the city.

The opposition claim the changes are designed to minimise the risk of heavy Socialist losses in Tirana. They accused the Socialists of attempting to gerrymander districts to increase their party's prospects in the local elections and insisted that, under Albania's constitution, a local referendum is needed for such changes.

This controversial plan has been opposed by the Council of Europe, which has argued that there is not enough time to implement the changes before the October elections.

The poll is effectively a battle between the ruling Socialist coalition, led by former prime minister Fatos Nano, and the Democratic Party headed by Sali Berisha.

The ICG report points out that Albanian voters across the political spectrum are being asked to choose local representatives accountable to two leaders associated with the political uncertainty and upheavals of the recent past.

"The politics of power and personalities, rather than of policies, still mark the political scene in Albania," the ICG said. "Within both major parties, clans have emerged whose members primary aim is furthering their own personal and family interests."

Until the political classes accept Western-style democratic principles, there is a danger the effectiveness of international legislative and institution building assistance could be wasted.

It is vitally important for Albania's democracy and international reputation that this year's elections do not repeat the mistakes of the recent past.

The Council of Europe said a fair poll acceptable to all the political parties, "is a condition that Albania must meet" after all the promises made ahead of the country's membership of the council in July 1995.

The ICG said the elections would be "a measure of the level of political maturity" in Albania. A successful ballot, the report went on, would enhance regional stability and advance the country's European integration.

Sokol Rama is editor of Illyria, an Albanian-American newspaper

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