Albania's Controversial Elections

Opposition lawmakers protest the decision to count votes previously considered invalid, in Albania in May.

Mayoral elections in Tirana, Albania, on May 8 have sparked controversy in a country where elections have been marred by controversy, protest and violence since 2009, the year Albania joined NATO. Lulzim Basha has ultimately been declared winner of the extremely tight race between him and Edi Rama—after Rama initially appeared to come out in front—but this latest electoral dysfunction brings with it consequences. Not only does it stir tension between parties, it does not bode well for Albania's aspirations to join the European Union. This edition of Viewpoints walks you through the recent events. 

Eurasia Review, June 25: Incumbent Edi Rama—leader of the Socialist Party—has been mayor for 11 years, and initially appeared to have eked out a ten-vote victory in the race against challenger Lulzim Basha. That result, however, was overturned following a Central Election Commission decision to count ballots that voters had placed in the wrong boxes. When those votes were included, it was Basha who held the lead. … The left is boycotting parliament and warning of popular revolt if the Electoral College, a body of judges dealing with process legitimacy, declares Basha the winner. Berisha’s Democrats, meanwhile, say the Socialists are undermining the rule of law and are holding the country’s E.U. prospects hostage., June 27: With four votes in favor and two against, the Central Electoral Commission declared Lulzim Basha the winner of the May 8 race for the capital’s mayoralty with a 93-vote advantage out of a quarter-million. … The Socialists are expected to lodge a compliant with the Electoral College, a specialized court for election disputes.?The new complaint before the court would be the fourth after the election commission on May 23 initially declared Basha the winner, following a controversial recount of stray ballots.?The recount gave Basha a lead of 81 votes out of a quarter-million over Rama, who had a razor-thin margin of ten ballots in the unofficial preliminary results, before the stray ballots were added.?The dispute over the stray ballots occurred because some voters who had multiple ballots to put into designated boxes failed to do so correctly, partly because the ballot boxes were not clearly distinguished by color.

Hurriyet Daily News, June 28: Two years to the day since Albania's disputed parliamentary elections, European fatigue has set in over the Balkan country's longest-running political crisis in two decades. "I don't see the situation improving," E.U. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule has said. … The country's political standoff was triggered when the Socialist Party led by Tirana mayor Edi Rama claimed electoral fraud and demanded a recount of votes cast in the June 2009 legislative poll. The ruling Democrats, led by Prime Minister Sali Berisha, have repeatedly rejected the demands of the opposition, which boycotted parliament before a partial delegation returned to the assembly. Every Albanian election since the fall of communism in the early 1990s has been marred by accusations of fraud., June 29: Since 2009, Albania has sought to join the European Union. But the E.U. appears less and less positive about Albania’s application. The European Commission for Enlargement let on that the E.U. is planning to open dialogues on accession by the end of the year with Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia; Albania wasn't mentioned. One of the main reasons for the E.U.’s concern is that persistent disputes surround Albania’s elections.

Houston Chronicle/Foreign Policy (by James A. Baker III), July 5: The latest example of Albania's crippling political gridlock was May 8's extraordinarily close election for mayor of Tirana. The two candidates, representing both major political parties, are among the country's leading political figures. The race pitted Lulzim Basha of the ruling Democratic Party—a former foreign minister—against Edi Rama, the leader of the Socialists—Albania's main opposition party. With almost 250,000 votes cast, Rama claims to have a lead of 10 votes, while Basha claims that he is ahead by 81 votes. The winner has yet to be officially declared, and a panel of judges has been reviewing arguments over which ballots should be counted and which should be excluded. The controversy comes against the backdrop of ongoing political turmoil since Albania's contested general election of 2009, after which the Socialists staged massive street demonstrations over what they saw as serious voting irregularities.

Ekonom:east Media Group (EMG), July 7: The legal marathon for the municipality of Tirana was postponed again. The Socialists withdrew their complaint in the court session that was expected to decide whether elections will be repeated in 284 voting centers or not. The Socialist Party deposited another complaint in the Electoral College, which wants to oblige the Central Election Commission (CEC) to inspect the request for the invalidity of more than half of the voting centers in Tirana. CEC had refused to inspect this request because the deadline had passed.

eTaiwan News, July 8: Albania's top electoral court has turned down an opposition request for a rerun of a contentious vote that threw the country into a political crisis in May. The decision Friday means governing party candidate Lulzim Basha retains his victory in the race for Tirana mayor. … Opposition supporters held rallies for days outside the electoral commission's headquarters in May to protest a decision to amend the results by including ballots originally uncounted for having been cast into the wrong ballot boxes. The final result shows Basha winning with 93 more votes than opposition candidate Edi Rama.

Ekonom:east Media Group (EMG), July 15: The local elections have deteriorated the political crisis in Albania, intensifying the rift between the countries' leading parties—the ruling Democratic Party of PM Sali Berisha and the Socialist Party led by Edi Rama. A row erupted surrounding the election of a Tirana mayor. Votes have been counted several times and ultimately the candidate of the ruling coalition, Ljuljzim Basa, [has been] proclaimed victor.