26th Jul 2021

Albania's election: what is at stake?

  • Prime minister Edi Rama on the campaign trail - he is now seeking an unprecedented in post-communist times third term (Photo: Wikimedia)

Albanians will cast their vote in a general election on Sunday (25 April). Will it be a third mandate for the current government of prime minister Edi Rama, or he will be replaced by opposition nominee Lulzim Basha?

This election is widely-seen as the most important since the end of communism in 1990. And Brussels will look carefully at this poll as a measure for opening the negotiation process on EU accession.

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  • A campaign poster at a bus stop in Albania for a EU visa liberalisation (Photo: roberto_berna)

It is widely regarded that a failure of Albania to move forward, in the next four years, with an EU integration process risks turning the country into further authoritarianism.

A victory for Rama will make him the first prime minister to serve three terms in office since 1990.

Unlike Albania's neighbours, there is no pro-Russia party running, and newcomers have few chances to breakthrough.

Who is Rama?

Rama, 56, is the current prime minister and head of the Socialist Party, a centre-left party in office since 2013. A former painter and basketball player, he was mayor of the capital, Tirana, for three terms, only to lose office in 2011 in a close runoff with the current opposition nominee for prime minister.

Rama is running campaign largely based on his own personal charisma, and what he sees as a successful leadership of Albania through the Covid-19 pandemic. Rama has also inaugurated or overseen various major national infrastructure projects, including numerous tunnels, bridges, and promises of three new airports.

Who is Basha?

The 46-year old opposition frontrunner, Lulzim Basha is the chair of the Democratic Party, of the centre-right, and a lawyer by profession. He has attempted to build a larger and diverse coalition, and is running on a progressive platform of fighting organised crime, corruption, supporting the middle class, and investment in the agriculture and tourism sectors.

What is the domestic background?

While during the period 2006-2011 Abania achieved its goal of visa-liberalisation with the EU and membership of Nato, its journey to EU membership has been frozen since 2012 - due to a combination of 'enlargement-fatigue' in EU capitals, and the lack of noticeable success by Rama's government in complying with EU accession requirements.

Albania is seen as having an endemic problem with corruption, ranked 104th (out of 180 countries) last year by the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International.

Rama's own government had faced various scandals during his eight years in office. Voice of America broadcaster and the German tabloid newspaper Bild published audio tapes of members of his government involved in money-laundering and money-for-votes conversations.

And two (of four) interior ministers have been fired, or resigned, after accusations of links with organised crime

Meanwhile, even though Albania has not shown much interest in help from Russia or China, Turkey has exerted some influence.

Rama called himself a "friend" of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan - and replicated some of Turkey's policies on media law, journalists, handling corruption affairs, and juridical nominees.

Reporters Without Borders found that press freedom decreased, in 2020, and Albania was ranked 84th in the world - compared with 75th in 2018.

The economy has been - for every Albanian government - an Achilles' heel. Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an official unemployment rate of 15 percent, and among young people around 30 percent.

Some 360,000 Albanians - almost 12 percent of the entire population - has made a request for asylum in one of the EU member states.

Between 2016 and 2019, Albania was the third biggest country for people seeking asylum in the EU, behind only the war-torn states of Syria and Afghanistan.

Poverty is estimated to have increased by one percent, with 28,000 people newly-classified as poor, with around 18 percent of the population living on less than $1.90 [€1.58] a day.

On top of that, Covid-19 restrictions have hit the economy badly, in particular in its two main sources of income: tourism, and remittances.

Author bio

Rigels Lenja is a freelance journalist from Albania, now studying for a PhD at the School of Eastern and South East European Studies at the University of Munich.

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