Albania: A democratic upset

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of PLC.

A troubled poll delivers a stunning victory to Albania’s former strongman Sali Berisha, says Altin Raxhimi in Transitions Online.

Sali Berisha, the veteran Albanian politician whose ouster by force eight years ago seemed to herald the end of his political career, appears poised for a spectacular comeback following the 3 July general elections. His Democratic Party (PD) won at least 54 of 100 directly contested seats in parliament and may be able to form a stable governing coalition.

Party officials are confident that with their center-right allies they will win another 20 to 22 of the additional 40 seats that are allotted proportionally, which would enable them to clear the 70-seat threshold for the formation of a government. 

Berisha said that as prime minister, his priorities would be the fight against corruption, slashing taxes by half, reducing the size of government, and creating more space for private business.

Berisha is a controversial politician whose own brand of anti-communism and creeping authoritarianism dominated Albania’s post-communist politics until he was forced from the presidency in a violent uprising in 1997. 

In an election closely monitored by international observers because of the bitter rivalry between the country’s two main parties, which stood neck and neck before the poll, and allegations of irregularities in virtually all previous elections in the country, Berisha bested his arch-rival Fatos Nano, the leader of the Socialist Party (PS) and current prime minister, after spending eight long years in opposition.

The ruling Socialists have not yet admitted defeat and they may be pinning their hopes on alleged irregularities, but spirits at their headquarters in Tirana were low, with only about 100 supporters present as the results came in. A jubilant Democratic Party mobilized thousands of supporters who gathered in Tirana’s main square to celebrate for two days. 

The general secretary of the Socialists, Gramoz Ruci, said his party would not concede defeat until the election results were declared final by the country’s elections commission. Several Socialist challengers have lodged complaints with the courts against winning PD rivals. 

But it will be difficult for the Socialists to make up their losses. 

The party lost eight of 12 constituencies in the capital, Tirana, which they had had controlled since 1997. They also lost all nine constituencies in Durres, Albania’s second city, which had been considered a PS stronghold. The Democrats made inroads in the generally hostile south of the country, winning two of the three seats in the city of Vlora. It was Vlora, in 1997, where the protests against Berisha’s authoritarian regime began. Berisha could not even visit the southern port until 2001. The uprising was prompted by the collapse of pyramid schemes that had robbed countless Albanians of their life savings. 

The Democrats also made gains in the other Socialist stronghold of Gjirokastra and in Korca in the southeast, Albania’s fourth largest town.

To read the article in full, visit the Transitions Online website.