Albania – Government formation after months of partisan turmoil

In this post, I examine the most recent developments in Albania after an unconventional presidential election in April, a months-long boycott of parliament by the oppositional Democratic Party (DP), and the parliamentary election with Socialist Edi Rama as clear winner of a majority that enables him to govern without a coalition partner.

Presidential election in April 2017
Since February 2017 the oppositional DP was boycotting the Albanian Parliament. Despite calls by the European Union and several European governments the DP was determined in its course. Among their demands were the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the formation of a caretaker government. This parliamentary boycott – that could not be solved by several rounds of EU-led negotiations – not only resulted in a political stalemate that largely influenced and hindered the political decision making but also impacted the presidential election. As explained in a blog post published earlier this year, Albania is a parliamentary system with a president elected by parliament. Candidates are nominated by at least 20 deputies. In the first three rounds a presidential candidate has to gain the support of 3/5 of the members of parliament, i.e. 84 votes out of the 140 seats (Art. 87). The constitution stipulates a maximum of five rounds. Only after three rounds failed, the majority requirement changes. The fourth ballot (and the fifth) require only the absolute majority and are held between the two leading candidates from the third round. In case the fifth round fails as well, parliament is dissolved and snap elections take place within 60 days. (Art. 87).

Hence, after three rather unconventional rounds of presidential elections, the president/chairman of the Albanian Parliament, Ilir Meta was elected as 7th President of the Republic of Albania. This presidential election was unusual because the ruling Socialist Party did not nominate a candidate during the first three rounds of presidential elections. Party representatives declared that they are not “nominating anyone for president to demonstrate its willingness to conduct a dialogue with the opposition [DP, author] over the next president and achieve a consensus with all political forces in the country” (EurAsia Daily 2017).

Parliamentary elections in June 2017
As could be expected the election of Meta as President was heavily criticized by the DP, a fact a lot of observers deemed hypocritical because of Meta’s ties to both DP and the Socialist Party. And although some DP deputies threatened to boycott both the parliamentary elections and local elections, the parliamentary elections were held in June 2017 after the leaders of the main parties – Edi Rama and Lulzim Basha – agreed on several measures to meet the demands of the boycotting DP. Next to the inclusion of representatives of the opposition in the cabinet and as heads of some state agencies, the center-right opposition was also put in charge of the Central Electoral Commission (Mejdini 2017). This agreement ended the three-months long boycott by the DP and allowed the parliamentary election to be rescheduled. Within the short campaign time, Prime Minister Rama ran mostly on an anti-corruption and a pro-EU message. And his declared goal was to get enough support among the electorate to govern without a coalition partner (Keleka 2017). With the lowest voter turnout since the end of communist rule (44.9%) (Keleka 2017), the Socialist Party of Rama won the majority of 48 % and 74 seats in parliament. This means a plus of 9 seats compared to the previous election. The DP of Basha won 29 % and 43 seats in parliament (a minus of 7 seats) (RFE/RL 2017). With this result, Edi Rama exceeded expectations and was able to form a new government. As Article 96 of the constitution stipulates, the prime minister is nominated by the president with the approval of the party with a majority of seats in parliament. With the now absolute majority of the Socialist Party secured, the old and new Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the new cabinet on August 27.

What to expect from the new government?
The results of the parliamentary election allow the Socialist Party to govern without a coalition partner – “a unique opportunity for a country that has been marred by political divisions and coalition in-fighting to pursue an ambitious agenda of reform and European integration” as Fras (2017) has convincingly stated. But some observers have also identified a concrete threat to the democratic development in Albania, the tendency to rely on so-called Balkan strongmen (Fischer 2007 and 2010), strong leaders without a proper check by other institutions. Prime Minister Rama faces no real opposition at this point. The president – Ilir Meta – does not have a lot of constitutionally assigned competences. His authority beyond the constitutionally assigned power is certainly limited because of his difficult election by a boycotted parliament and his long and controversial political career with allegations of corruption and not a lot of partisan support. Some authors and analysts have even suggested that it was Rama’s intend to place Meta in a position where he could not become a threat against his political ambitions (see for a collection of these statements Koleka 2017). At the same time, the electoral defeat and the months long boycott has left the main oppositional party – DP – and its leader in a precarious position: “In Albania’s strongly divided personality politics, Lulzim Basha’s decision to push the old DP grandees aside could cost him his post. His earlier decision to abandon an election boycott was a smart move but the defeat might lead to the party’s collapse” (Fras 2017) and the re-structuring of the whole party system. But Rama’s presentation of his cabinet also offered a glimpse into his ideas about the future of Albania. He announced a near equal representation of male and female ministers and emphasized his clear commitment to a fast EU-accession. Taking up this leading role – also among Western Balkan leaders – is certainly a hopeful sign for the whole region.

Literature
EurAsia Daily (2017): Political crisis in Albania: parliamentarians failing to elect president
Подробнее: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2017/04/20/political-crisis-in-albania-parliamentarians-failing-to-elect-president
Fischer, Bernd J, 2007. ed. Balkan strongmen: dictators and authoritarian rulers of South Eastern Europe. Purdue University Press.
Fischer, Bernd J. 2010. “Albania since 1989: the Hoxhaist legacy.” In Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989, edited by Sabrina P. Ramet, 421–44. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press. Accessed August 05, 2014
Fras, Max (2017): Prime Minister Edi Rama takes total control in Albania, but who can keep him in check?, in: blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/06/30/edi-rama-takes-control-albania/
Mejdini, Fatjona (2017): Albania Opposition to Join Govt Ahead of Election, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/opposition-enters-with-technical-ministers-in-albanian-gov-05-18-2017
Koleka, Benet (2017): Albanian Socialists to get parliamentary majority: partial vote count, in: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-albania-election-result-idUSKBN19H18L
RFE/RL (2017): Albania’s Socialists Secure Governing Mandate In Parliamentary Vote, in: https://www.rferl.org/a/albania-socialists-parliamentary-elections/28581341.html, June 27.

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