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Albania, Europe's Problematic Child

Ledion Krisafi, July 8, 2010

Tens of thousands thronged the main square of Tirana on April 30 demanding a recount of ballots.

More than one year has passed since the general elections of June 2009, but the echo that event left behind has not faded away. The Socialist Party, who lost the elections, demands opening of the ballot boxes because its leader, Tirana Major Edi Rama, claims that the Democratic Party won the elections with stolen votes.

The proofs for this have not been missing. In one election center in the small village of Ruzhdije it was revealed that the members representing the Democratic Party in the local elections commission had manipulated the votes. Votes were recorded for hundreds of voters who were not in Albania at the time of the elections.

The Socialist Party says that Ruzhdije is not alone in the vote-manipulation process. It boycotted the Parliament for more than six months and threatens to do it again in September. More than 20 lawmakers with hundreds of supporters went into a hunger strike in late April and early May for more than 19 days, which ended after the intervention of the European community. Then began the negotiations between two major parties with the assistance of the European community, but nothing came out of it.

According to the electoral code adapted in December 2008 and approved by the two major parties, if two members of the Center Electoral Commission demand opening of the ballots, then they have to be opened. But, despite this demand from two members a year ago, nothing has happened. The High Court also did not approve the opening of the ballot boxes, and since that day, nearly a year ago, the political situation in Albania has grown more and more tense.

The two major parties are standing firmly on their initial positions, which has made it difficult to arrive at an agreement. The Socialist Party demands the opening of the ballot boxes and nothing less, while the Democratic Party refuses it because the High Court did not approve the opening of the ballot boxes and would be therefore against the Albanian Constitution.

The common people stand divided, split along party lines. Public opinion is in agreement, however, that this "ballot war" will bring nothing good for the country.

The general feeling among the population is that two major parties are just two groups who fight on who is going to control the country's economic resources. Citizens feel more and more that the political class has become removed from the electorate and its problems. Outside the capital of Tirana, unemployment is high, which according to various foreign sources is around 30-40 percent. Although the economic growth for the last 8 or 9 years in Albania has been 6-7 percent, the population is still the poorest in Europe, not counting Kosovo.

Corruption, especially in the public administration, is problematic, and the Court is controlled by politics. It is almost impossible to combat corruption in Albania because the people who have to fight it are the same as those who make it. In the last years the dividing line between the legislative, executive and judicious branches has grown narrower. Various international organizations have seen a tendency by the government to control all three branches of the state. According to The Economist, Albania is a hybrid state, even though it has more than 20 years building democracy.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha has in more then one situation lauded the fact that Albania was not hit by the world economic crisis, but he does not approve the prediction made by the IMF for Albania's economic growth in 2010, which will be approximately 2 percent, the lowest since 2001. The government also has problems with the budget. It has had difficulty finding money to liquidate the borrowings in foreign banks and institutions. In April the emission of Eurobonds in the European market was predicted, which would have given to the Albanian government circa 400 million euros, but the emission was delayed until October or November.

The political situation has done a lot of damage in the road to European integration. Albania in April applied for E.U. membership, while it is waiting visa liberalization with the European Union. The European community more then once has expressed concerns for the political situation in the country and has threatened that if an agreement is not made soon, European integration for Albania will be at risk. But the European Parliament is not taking the right path to a solution, with parties again split down party lines. The European community has repeatedly been biased in their declarations.

There are only two ways the political situation can be solved. The first is the opening of some of the ballot boxes, which is predicted by the Electoral Code. The prime minister has said that the June elections were the best ever made in Albania, but if problems come out of these ballot boxes, then the whole process will be doubted. The second option is new general elections, which is not to be recommended because of the economic problems Albania is facing and the high cost of two general elections in two years. In 2011 the local elections are going to be held, and the Socialist Party has threatened that it may not participate in them if the ballot boxes are not opened. If we bear in mind the fact that the party has more than 45 percent of the Albanian electorate, then things may get really tough for Albania.

Ledion Krisafi is an Albanian journalist living in Tirana.

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