With over half of the ballots counted during yesterday’s general elections, Albania is projected towards the reconfirmation of the centre-left as the majority in Parliament, with the centre-right as main opposition. The Socialist Party is currently on track to win about 73 seats in the 140-seat chamber, just barely scraping by a mandate to govern alone.
There won’t be a repeat of a coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), as had happened during the 2013 elections. This a welcome development for Prime Minister Edi Rama. His relationship with Ilir Meta, founder of LSI and President of Albania, has been steadily growing less amicable, partially due to LSI putting too many conditions on reforms wanted by the Socialists.
The elections appear to have been up to international standards, something the European Union was watching closely. Ever since Communism collapsed in the 90s, fraud, vote buying and violence have been recurrent during electoral bouts, and many in the EU were worried at the prospect of a repeat. In the event, yesterday’s elections have been far from exemplary, but ‘average and acceptable’ – as OSCE has defined them – is a good starting point for Albania.
Voter turnout was only 45%, down 7 points from the last elections and a record low for the country. Voting was even extended an extra hour in hopes of drawing in a few more ballots. In the second poorest country in Europe, this political apathy does not come as a surprise. However, it is a strong warning bell for the country: the Socialists will need to bring a whiff of fresh air to Parliament, or risk see their political legitimacy eroded.
The re-election of the Socialist Party is good news for Albania’s relations with the European Union, considering PM Edi Rama has pledged to start accession talks with the EU before his second term in office is over. The country has been a candidate Member State since 2014, but has so far been unable to kick-start its process towards starting negotiations. Even with the most important issue of fair and democratic elections settled, there are still several key measures to implement before accession talks with the EU can even begin.
Amongst these, the most pressing is passing substantial judicial reform measures to tackle corruption and the vetting of prosecutors. The absence of an effective separation of powers has made it difficult to put in place checks and balances on the government, as well as to act upon human rights violations effectively.
The European Commission has also asked Albania to improve the political dialogue within Parliament, which has been described as highly confrontational and unproductive. Consultation with third parties has historically been very poor, and the opposition Democratic Party has only just agreed to return to Parliament after boycotting and effectively immobilising it for three months. Thanks to the Socialists agreeing to work together with the Democratic Party to begin constitutional and electoral reforms together, progress might finally be within reach.
This bodes particularly well for the EU because the two parties are both very interested in furthering Albania’s application as Member State, so both are incentivised to keep up their close collaboration. The overwhelming majority they gained at these elections is probably going to ensure that the necessary reforms to start accession talks are passed before the next electoral cycle begins.