Third consecutive victory produces a test for the Albanian Socialist Party | Voice of America
WASHINGTON – United States and European Union urge Albanian leaders to put aside differences and move forward towards establishing stable democracy after Sunday’s elections which gave the ruling Socialist Party a third consecutive term .
Prime Minister Edi Rama’s party is the first to achieve this feat since the collapse of communism more than three decades ago. He won 74 out of 140 seats in parliament, which is more than enough to rule without coalition partners, if he chooses to do so.
However, the main opposition Democratic Party has yet to accept the results, which follow a heated and sometimes violent campaign. What comes next can determine whether Albania can move forward to become a full-fledged democracy and integrate into the European Union.
The United States – an ally and a staunch supporter of reforms in the country – recognized Rama’s victory and called for respect for the results.
“The United States congratulates the Albanian people on their recent elections. We look forward to continuing our close partnership with Prime Minister Rama and welcome the vigorous campaign of the opposition. Respect for legitimate election results strengthens Albanian democracy, ”State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted on Wednesday.
Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the US and the EU appear to be on the same page.
“I think the message you are hearing from Washington, Brussels, is to accept these results as confirmed by the Central Election Commission. Let us play your democratic roles and your expected roles in a modern, parliamentary European democracy, ”he told VOA.
Rama declared the victory and thanked party supporters at a rally in the capital Tirana on Tuesday, saying: “It was the most difficult, the biggest and the most beautiful victory of the Socialist Party of Albania.”
He campaigned on pledges to boost tourism, energy and infrastructure projects, among others, and dismissed criticism on a weak scorecard, saying the ensuing crises of a deadly earthquake in November 2019 and the coronavirus pandemic had hampered its program.
While Lulzim Basha, leader of the right-wing opposition Democrats, admitted his party received fewer votes than socialist rivals, he has so far stopped recognizing the results as legitimate.
“The election had nothing to do with democracy. We entered this battle not with a political opponent but with a regime that has done everything to destroy a fair electoral race, ”he declared.
He is now under pressure from prominent members of his party to resign.
Elections improved, but problems persist
Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe noted improvements compared to previous electoral elections, but with reservations.
“The Albanian parliamentary elections were characterized by a lively and inclusive campaign, thanks to a legal framework that helped to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms,” said an OSCE Preliminary Report. “At the same time, the campaign saw authorities take advantage of ubiquitous public office and voice-buying allegations.”
Daniel Serwer of Johns Hopkins University said the election looked “better than some in Albania’s past”.
He expressed concern about the allegations of vote buying, but added that it was a “common problem in democracies in transition”.
“Abuse of office seems to me to be a much deeper criticism,” he added. “And we have to somehow avoid capture of the state by political forces. And especially when you elect the same prime minister three times in a row, there is a tendency to take over to solidify a bit. ”
There were serious problems in the days leading up to the election. A news site announced that a database containing the personal data of more than 900,000 Albanians could be in the hands of party officials. The database could only have come from a government agency.
And a bitter political fight turned to murder when a Socialist Party activist was shot dead by someone the police identified as a member of the Democratic Party.
Political tensions escalated when President Ilir Meta accused Rama of usurping all power and leading a “kleptocratic regime”.
Meta’s former party, the Socialist Movement for Integration, which is led by his wife, Monika Kryemadhi, was an ally of the DP in the elections but ran alone and lost seats. Meta said on Wednesday he plans to return to the party when his term as president expires next year.
A 2020 report on human rights by the US State Department said that corruption in Albania is “pervasive in all branches of government”. The latest “Nations in Transit” report released Wednesday by Freedom House classifies the country as a transitional or hybrid regime and records declines in the overall democracy score.
“It is quite clear that in Albania you need stronger institutions to consolidate democracy. And first and foremost, among those institutions is an independent judiciary, ”said Serwer of Johns Hopkins.
While the Socialist Party sees his third term as a validation, Wilson of the Atlantic Council said the government was receiving a signal “that it really needs to act on some of the key issues such as rule of law and measures. anti-corruption to truly gain membership in the EU. displacement of the process. ”
But he said a signal was also being sent to Basha, who is blamed for his party and allies boycotting parliament in 2017 and not participating in local elections two years later.
“People want to see democracy work, want to see the opposition participate in the Albanian parliamentary democracy and be this active opposition in Parliament, supporting the interests of the country and moving towards the EU, but working through its democratic institutions. “, did he declare.