So Albania is having a general election. The voters will go to the polls on July 4, in a little over three weeks.
The Albanian electoral system is rather interesting IMO. The Parliament has 140 members. 100 members are elected in “zones”, one-member districts with a first-past-the-post system, rather like Britain. But 40 members are elected at large, using party lists. All the parties that get more than 2.5% of the vote will divide these 40 seats among them, proportionately.
I don’t know anyone else who uses this mixed system, though I’m sure it can’t be unique to Albania.
So who’s running, what’s it all about, and who… will… win?
Albanian politics has a certain fractal complexity, so this is a simplified version.
On one side, there’s Dr. Sali Berisha. Berisha, 61, ran the country from 1992 to 1997, when he was forced to resign after a pyramid scheme nearly bankrupted the country. Berisha had a nasty reputation for being authoritarian, arbitrary, and much too willing to tolerate corruption. Supporters say he’s changed his ways.
In 1997, after the pyramid scheme collapsed, riots nearly tore the country apart. Either dozens or hundreds died, depending on who you believe, and the country went through a very ugly bout of pretty much pure anarchy. (It’s an ugly but fascinating episode that’s not widely known outside Albania.) At that time, a political enemy gave Dr. Berisha the nickname “Dr. Rumpalla”. Rumpalla is Albanian for “chaos” or “bloody mess”. The name stuck, Berisha had to resign, and he’s been out of power since.
Until recently, the stigma of 1997 was so great that it was hard to imagine Berisha ever getting back into office. In the last couple of years, though, he’s claimed responsibility and even apologized for the events of that year. He’s said that he made mistakes and learned from them. At least some Albanians seem to believe him.
Berisha’s party is the Democrats. Traditionally — that is, for the last fifteen years or so — the Democrats have been the party of the north of Albania, which is the less developed part of the country. They claim to be the original party of opposition to Communism, though there’s no shortage of Communists in their ranks.
On the other side is Fatos Nano. Nano is younger — just 52 — and trained as an economist. He rose with Berisha out of the wreck of Communism, and was briefly Prime Minister in the early ’90s. But the two men soon found themselves at odds, and Berisha’s government ended up throwing Nano in jail. He stayed there for three and a half years, 1993-1997. Then he came out of jail to be Prime Minister two more times, 1997-1998 and 2002-present.
Nano’s supporters call him an Albanian Mandela, and note that Albania has enjoyed respectable economic growth in his most recent term in power. His enemies refer to him as “That Greek Bastard”. They say that he’s a slimy, squirming schemer, who may be less arrogant than Berisha but is far more personally corrupt and obsessed with power. The economic growth, they add, was long overdue and is no work of his.
Nano’s party is the Socialists. The Socialists are pretty directly descended from the old Communist Party. They draw most of their support from the south of Albania, which was always the more urban and more developed part of the country.
(The north-south divide is cultural as well as economic. Ghegs — northerners –speak a different dialect, and are traditionally more fractious and clannish. Tosks — southerners — consider themselves to be more civilized, while Tosks consider themselves to be more free. Communist dictator Enver Hoxha was a southerner, a Tosk, and so were most of his inner circle.)
The Socialists are the incumbents, with 73 seats out of 140 in Parliament. The Democrats have 46 seats, with the other 21 divided among smaller parties.
Oh, and there’s also a President, Alfred Moisiu. An elderly ex-general, he’s a WWII vet who served for many years in the Communist Party under the late dictator Enver Hoxha. He’ll be in office until 2007, at which point he’ll be nearly 80. He doesn’t seem to be playing a major role in these elections, though I could easily be missing it.
Policies? The various parties’ platforms are pretty much identical. The Socialists are nominally left-ish, and the Democrats supposedly a party of the center-right, but you couldn’t tell it from here. The elections are going to be about hope, fear, personalities and image, not ideology.
Clip & save summary:
Sali Berisha, 61
Democrat Party (north Albania, Ghegs)
Biggest negative perceptions: chaos of 1997, arrogant and authoritarian
Biggest positive perceptions: sincerely penitent, relatively clean these days
Fatos Nano, 52 (incumbent)
Socialist Party (south Albania, Tosks)
Biggest negative perceptions: corrupt, schemer, business as usual
Biggest positive perceptions: competent, gets things done
Next: the wild-card weighlifter, the artist turned Mayor, and what it all means.