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Albania - Politics

The ruling Socialist Party emerged as the winner of Albanias 25 June 2017 parliamentary election. Preliminary resuls showed a small majority for the Socialists in parliament. Prime Minister Edi Rama's Socialists garnered almost half the votes. The opposition Democratic Party, meanwhile, appeared to have secured 28 percent of the votes. Rama was keen to gain a majority so he can push through reforms aimed at smoothing the path for entry into the European Union - primarily a reform of the country's corrupt judicial system. Election officials said the initial results pointed to 75 seats for the Socialists in the 140-seat parliament. Rama's current junior coalition partner, the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), gathered about 19 percent of the vote. The party had been a kingmaker in Albanian politics for the past 10 years.

The opposition Democratic Party, led by Lulzim Basha, had threatened to boycott the vote until it was given assurances of greater oversight on election transparency and a postponement of the poll. The Democrats were also given key ministries ahead of the vote, and campaigning has been relatively low-key in a country where elections are usually bitterly contested. Although the two party leaders have indulged in vitriolic personal attacks on each other, both agree on the need to prioritize EU accession.

Prior to 2013, Albania, a member of NATO, had yet to hold an election deemed free and fair by international monitors in more than two decades since its transition to democracy from the Stalinist rule of late dictator Enver Hoxha. Polarization between the two mainstream political parties, concerns about lapses in Albanian democracy and the slow pace of reform have stalled the country's quest to join the EU. Albania remains prone to violence and instability. Despite a highly polarized political atmosphere, elections had been mainly peaceful and political violence had usually, but not always, been avoided.

Pervasive corruption in all branches of government, and particularly within the judicial system, remains a serious problem. Highly partisan state institutions, including the Central Election Commission, undermined citizens rights to challenge laws directly and to participate fully in their government. The ruling partys steady consolidation of power during this period further eroded public confidence in the independence of the countrys institutions.

The main political parties are the Democratic Party of Albania (DP); Albanian Socialist Party (PS); Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI). Others include the Albanian Republican Party (PR); Demo-Christian Party (PDK); Union for Human Rights Party (PBDNJ); New Democracy Party (PDR); Social Democratic Party (PSD); and Social Democracy Party (PDS). But in all there seem to be about 60 political "parties" that participate in elections.

The right-leaning Democratic Party of Albania (DP) is a member of the electoral Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration / Aleanca per Punesim, Mireqenie dhe Integrim, which consists of 25 parties, led by the center-right PD party. The coalition also includes the Republican Party of Albania / Partia Republikane and the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity / Partia Bashkimi pr t Drejtat e Njeriut.

The left-leaning Albanian Socialist Party (PS) joined the Alliance for a European Albania / Aleanca per Shqiperine Evropiane which is a broad tent coalition consisting of 37 opposition parties, led by the center-left PS party. Other coalition partners include the Socialist Movement for Integration / Lvizja Socialiste pr Integrim and the Unity for Human Rights Party / Partia pr Drejtesi Integrim dhe Unitet.

In the language of Albanian politics, "left" and "right" do not really correlate with the general understanding of these terms. There are hardly any obvious ideological differences between the two parties that could justify positioning them in the right or left camp. Both are in favor of the country's political integration into Europe, and of strengthening ties across the Atlantic. Cronyism is normal in Albania, and after an election it is usual for representatives of the winning party to take over most of the posts in the public administration system, many of which enjoy Constitutional immunity from prosecution for all criminal offenses. Because of this, there is great incentive for criminal figures to obtain positions of power in government.

Background

Albania spent the majority of World War II under Italian and German control. However, as their grip on Albania loosened towards the end of the war, increasing swathes of the country fell to Albanian partisans. With support from Tito's Yugoslav Communist Party, Enver Hoxha and his communist supporters entered the liberation struggle, defeated their rivals and gained effective control of the country. In 1961 relations between Albania and the Soviet Union became strained following improved relations between the Khruschev regime and the Yugoslavs. Hoxha taking advantage of worsening Sino-Soviet relations succeeded in building an alliance with China, securing continued economic support for Albania which lasted until 1978 when Mao's death prompted a change in Chinese policies. From this point until his death in 1985, Hoxha pursued an isolationist policy for Albania, keeping international commitments to a minimum, and stressing the need for self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

After Hoxha's death in 1985 his chosen successor, Ramiz Alia, gradually opened up the country both diplomatically and economically. Against the backdrop of the events in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s he was forced to increase the rate of reform. By 1990, changes elsewhere in the communist bloc began to influence thinking in Albania. The government began to seek closer ties with the West in order to improve the economic conditions in the country. In 1990, following student demonstrations, the formation of alternative political parties was allowed for the first time.

The Democratic Party (DP) was the first to emerge and was quickly followed by several other parties. Significant progress towards democratisation was made, leading to multi-party elections in March 1991. The Communists managed to hold on to power but a third of the parliamentary seats went to the DP. The People's Assembly approved an interim basic law in April 1991. Short-lived governments introduced initial democratic reforms throughout 1991. Demonstrations continued, and in June 1991 the Communists were forced to include the DP in a coalition government.

In March 1992, new elections were held in which the DP, led by Dr Sali Berisha, won an overwhelming victory, signalling the final collapse of communism. The victorious Democratic Party government under President Sali Berisha began a more deliberate program of market economic and democratic reform. In the years that followed, Albania enjoyed a period of economic growth in which democratic changes were introduced, civic institutions were created and laws on human and minority rights were passed. However, by the mid-90s the DP led by Sali Berisha started to adopt increasingly non-democratic and even authoritarian policies.

Progress stalled in 1995, resulting in declining public confidence in government institutions. In the 1996 parliamentary elections the DP won two thirds of the seats but, according to international observers, there were serious irregularities in the vote. The opposition boycotted parliament and took to the streets to demonstrate. These demonstrations were brutally broken up. An economic crisis was spurred on by the proliferation and collapse of several pyramid financial schemes. The implosion of authority in early 1997 alarmed the world and prompted intense international mediation and pressure.

After the deep political and economic crisis struck Albania at the beginning of 1997, a Government of National Reconciliation was formed with the participation of all major political parties of Albania. One of the main points of the platform of the Government of National Reconciliation, signed on March 9 1997, was the organisation of new Parliamentary elections, no later than June 1997, under full international monitoring.

At the end of the conflict, power transferred from the Democratic Party to the Socialist Party. Early elections held on 29 June 1997 led to the victory of a socialist-led coalition of parties. The OSCE concluded that the Albanian Parliamentary Elections of 1997 can be deemed as acceptable, given the prevailing circumstances in the country. The Parliament that emerged from elections in June 1997 was led by the Socialist Party, which took 101 of the 155 seats. The Democratic Party won 27 seats. The Social Democrats won eight seats (including the Speaker's), and the Unity for Human Rights party won four. Among the remaining seats, the Democratic Alliance, Republican, and Legality and Unity of the Right parties won two each; Balli Kombetar, the Agrarian, Christian Democrat, and National Unity Party won one each.



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