Elections in Albania (I)

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.

(Georg, over at Ostracized from Osterreich, has some more here.)

15 thoughts on “Elections in Albania (I)

  1. “I don?t know anyone else who uses this mixed system, though I?m sure it can?t be unique to Albania.”

    Your wife’s homeland?

  2. “(It?s an ugly but fascinating episode that?s not widely known outside Albania.)”

    It was pretty extensively covered in at least Swedish media.

  3. Croatia used variations of that system in 1992 and 1995. Personally, I believe it represents the best possible compromise between FPTP and PR.

  4. The system used in Lithuania is essentially the same as that to be used in the upcoming Albanian poll.

  5. Why don’t you ever try to meet the people you write about. Your article remains at large shallow. Have you finnished university yet or are u still attending it?

  6. dunno whether you saw this story on monday, doug, but it would be interesting to know more about how they all came to be in tirana.

    Young veterans and strategists of the Orange, Rose and Cedar revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon, as well as of the anti-Milosevic uprising, were joined in Tirana by Albanian youngsters organised to fight everything from illegal Italian waste dumping to corruption and violence against women. Alongside them were student leaders hoping to emulate the success of their peers against the daunting dictatorships in Belarus, Azerbaijan and in Uzbekistan, where President Karimov has just demonstrated his ruthlessness by massacring hundreds.

    “We all consider your chains our own,” declared the Albanian youth leader, Erion Veliaj, 25. “We hope you all reach a non-genetically modified democracy.”

  7. please excuse another lengthy and somewhat tangential post, but here’s something else i wrote earlier (2002) when i ran into another strange gathering in tirana. it’s a bit waffly, but that’s hackery. this one hit the spike anyhow. i guess that’s what comes of trying to disguise comment as a profile…

    TIRANA, Albania ? Emma Bonino is difficult to pin down. Her libertarian opinions defy easy categorization on the political spectrum and she is usually doing several things at once.

    Ms. Bonino, a 54-year-old veteran of Italian and European Union politics, has brought her Transnational Radical Party to Albania for the second session of its 38th Congress. The other delegates include Arab intellectuals, Afghan women?s leaders, a transvestite and a man who spends the weekend handcuffed to a shopping trolley full of chains.

    A commitment to spreading democracy and safeguarding human rights is the only obvious factor linking the party?s diverse membership, which includes almost a third of Albania?s members of parliament. That and the enigmatic personality of Ms. Bonino, who has devoted her 25 years in politics to empowering individuals rather than the governing establishment.

    In practice, this means getting very personally involved.

    As she sat down for an interview in Tirana?s main conference center, while scanning a newspaper article attacking the authoritarianism of Arab leaders, Ms. Bonino decided to return to the debating chamber.

    ?Please excuse me for a moment,? she said as she darted off, throwing a pashmina shawl across her slight shoulders. ?They?re voting now and I have to be there.?

    Politics has always been personal for Ms. Bonino. She began her career in the 1970?s by getting pregnant and having a highly publicized illegal termination that landed her in jail for a short spell. It also got her elected to Parliament, where she helped to rewrite Catholic Italy?s restrictive laws on abortion and divorce.

    Since then, her focus has broadened to cover the rest of the world, guided by the same principle that if you want something to change, you have to make it happen yourself.

    An idealist of the baby-boom generation she may be. But unlike many of her peers, Ms. Bonino is also bluntly realistic about Europe?s failure to develop a common political clout to match its combined wealth, especially when it comes to foreign policy.

    This has been most glaringly apparent in the Balkans, where American might, backed by the military, still wields more influence than European promises of prosperity to come. Ms. Bonino was a staunch advocate of intervention to stop the wars here in the 1990?s and she is as frustrated as many Americans that it was left to the United States to pick up the pieces.

    ?Europe is like a teenager – we don?t want to grow up and take greater responsibility,? she said. ?Instead we feel like we?re in a citadel, comfortable in our economic miracle and relying on the Americans to take care of us.?

    Ms. Bonino has other ideas. Europe needs more economic deregulation to prosper in the future, she believes, and it has to extend more of its advantages to others if it wants to avoid being swamped by immigrants and attacked by terrorists.

    As a commissioner for humanitarian issues on the European Union?s executive in the late 1990?s, she had an annual aid budget of $1.5 billion to back up her calls for increased spending on development assistance. But in her eyes, the battle has barely begun.

    ?In the past, if you mentioned democratization and civil rights as vital components of foreign policy you used to be denounced as a crazy visionary with no grip on reality,? Ms. Bonino said, drawing on the first of several cigarettes as she settled into her stride. ?Now at least no one says this in public, but democracy remains an empty slogan for much of the world.?

    The lobby of Tirana?s Palace of Congresses, a concrete relic of Stalinist rule, is littered with papers outlining Radical Party resolutions for action: from recommendations on engaging China to a proposed rewrite of the United Nations Convention on Drugs.

    There is also a photocopied article from the Economist magazine entitled ?The triumph of English?, which concludes that the language?s pre-eminence ?not only destroys the tongues of others; it also isolates native English-speakers from the literature, history and ideas of other peoples.?

    The prospect of a widening gulf in understanding between cultures alarms Ms. Bonino, who is as comfortable speaking English and French as she is Italian. Since last December, she has rented an apartment in Cairo, where she spends 10 days a month learning Arabic during breaks in her duties as a member of the European Parliament.

    A year of shuttling back and forth to Egypt has raised eyebrows in Brussels, where Ms. Bonino had already earned a reputation as a maverick. During her time as a European commissioner, she flew to Afghanistan to campaign for women?s rights and was promptly arrested by the Taliban, with a C.N.N. camera crew in tow.

    Unlike many Brussels bureaucrats, she has presence without pomposity and is adept at exploiting it to court publicity — much to the annoyance of her political rivals.

    ?My colleagues say: ?she?s gone crazy again?,? Ms. Bonino said, bubbling with irreverent enthusiasm. ?Of course you could have a more comfortable time learning Arabic in Morocco but it?s not going to help you understand Middle Eastern politics. I?m not studying the language to open a restaurant.?

    She was drawn to Egypt because of its ?fa?ade of democracy?, she said, intrigued as to why the United States provides President Hosni Mubarak?s government with so much military assistance while at the same time criticizing its record on human rights.

    Her conclusion? ?We?re still more interested in stability than promoting democracy, even if that is the only way to secure long-term stability,? she said. ?When Mubarak says ?it?s me or the Islamists? it works to get money. But his real fear is moderate democrats ? that?s why so many of these people are in jail.?

    Stressing that there are ?no miracle solutions,? Ms. Bonino still believes Western governments could do more by increasing development aid to the region — and spending it on projects that offer ordinary people new perspectives and opportunities.

    ?You can?t think about getting rid of Mubarak without providing an alternative to the mosque,? she said.

    But her experience in Egypt has forced her to accept that such a forthright manner of speaking does not always work to her advantage.

    ?It?s not easy being a woman alone in Cairo without political status or a job,? she said.

    ?In a city of 16 million people you?re not physically lonely, but you can feel isolated intellectually ? you learn pretty quickly that you?d better shut up most of the time.?

    That is not to say that she has changed. The contrast between her directness and diminutive, and distinctly feminine, form makes her as charming as she is confrontational.

    ?I feel that just being myself makes some waves ? exactly as it did in Italy in the 1970?s,? she said. ?My poor concierge in Cairo can?t understand why one night homosexuals are coming to visit then the next evening it?s the foreign ministry car.?

    There is a common misconception among Europeans, she said, that the Middle East has very little to do with them. ?But sooner or later we will have to look south and develop a project for this region before more people start pouring towards our borders, looking for a better life.?

    More importantly, Ms. Bonino believes, the West could undercut support for terrorists if it invested more of its wealth in building a brighter future for ordinary people.

    ?You can?t fight terrorism with military tools alone or just spend all this money on the army,? she said. ?Defending civil rights and trying to build democracy and empower people is not a quick fix, but a way to achieve peace and development.?

    As the prospect of war in Iraq looms closer, Ms. Bonino believes her message is timelier than ever.

    ?The world would clearly be a better place without Saddam Hussein,? she said, ?but we have to avoid inventing another like him.?

  8. Well, if Berisha is considered less personally corrupt than Nano, you must have been talking to supporters of his. Over here in Athens the Albanians I talk to are quite adamant that the inverse is the case.

    Additional info: there’s some fuss about a “fake” Gallup poll; there’s going to be a televised debate between the two leaders (a first I think); and (this at least got some coverage in Greece) Berisha (who gets precious few votes from the Greek minority) promised to allowed dual citizenship to Greek Albanians.

    Some minor corrections: You got the North-South clans mixed: the Ghegs are the Northeners and the Tosks are the Southerners. Berisha is a Gheg, Nano is a Tosk (or a Greek, according to his detractors)

    You also got the presidents and their parties mixed up in the summary.

  9. Agh, how very embarassing. I do know the difference, believe it or not. That’ll teach me to post instead of eating lunch. (I’m in Tirana working, and most find odd moments to post and comment.) Low blodd sugr make stipd, sorry.

    Fixed, and thanks for the correction.

    Berisha vs. Nano: can I hazard a guess that most of your Albanian interlocutors are Southerners? I do know that the Albanian diaspora in Greece is disproportionately southern — /Tosks/ — which would tend to make them Nanoists. (Nanites? Sorry.)

    Here in Tirana, even Berisha’s opponents seem more worried about his authoritarian tendencies, nasty temper, and general fecklessness than about him lining his pockets. (Though both sides are certain that the other is completely and utterly corrupt.)

    I’ll discuss the poll and the debate in my next post.

    Doug M.

  10. I do know that the Albanian diaspora in Greece is disproportionately southern — /Tosks/ — which would tend to make them Nanoists. (Nanites? Sorry.)
    Yes, that’s true. Plus the people I talk to were directly affected by the events of 97, which doesn’t make them… um, *sympathetic* to the DP at all.

  11. That dual-citizenship thing is a hot potato. The size of the Greek minority is a subject of considerable debate. Greek nationalists, including those in America claim it is quite sizeable. They tend to include all the Orthodox Vlachs. Since Greece offers substantial benefits ? pensions, visas, etc ? to those who declare themselves Greek, the boundaries of national identity become rather fluid, much to the fury of Albanian nationalists, for whom the memories of 1912 – 1913 have not faded. The Greek Orthodox church still has a very Byzantine conception of who is a Hellene.

    The level of Albanian emigration is quite extraordinary for a population that size. Many have gone to Italy and Greece, countries with the worst demographic problems in Europe, but the honourable traditions of the mountains, designed for places outside the reach of the law , where if you don?t defend your community you get trampled on ? as in Sicily or Kurdistan ? don?t travel that well. Albanian immigrant criminality has been a major focus for right wing groups in Italy and Greece, and is constantly over-emphasised in the media.

    Greece has a long history of Albanian penetration, going back to the 14th Century and before. The Arvantika speaking community consider themselves entirely Greek, and are very keen to differentiate themselves from Albanian immigrants, but their dying dialect shows clear Albanian roots. Albanians were also extremely prominent, militarily and administratively, under the Ottoman Empire. With such a background, it?s perhaps not surprising that there are tensions: an Albanian football fan was killed during a recent international match which triggered extensive anti-Albanian incidents in various parts of Greece.

    These two peoples need each other economically, and in many ways have a shared history of opposition to Turkish rule. Greece is a substantial investor in Albania?s telecoms sector, for instance. The irresponsibility of the Greek media in promoting anti-Albanian feeling is breath-taking.

  12. Hi John,

    Just picking up your last point… yes, it’s very clear that anti-Albanian feeling in Greece is both strong and thriving, well-watered by the Greek media. I have found that even cosmopolitan and educated Greeks seem to have trouble saying anything good about Albania.

    Anti-Greek feeling in Albania is also an issue (though ISTM it exists in part because of the percieved ill-treatment of Albanians in Greece). Berisha won nationalist support in part through Greece-baiting, while his supporters still refer to rival Fatos Nano as “that Greek bastard”, not only for his ancestry but also his alleged Hellenophilia.

    Still, I’ve been much more impressed with the Albanophobia in Greece. The usual thing — Greece is ten times as rich and an EU member, so one expects that they’d do better, and is startled accordingly when they don’t.

    Doug M.

  13. Orthodox solidarity certainly played a role in Greece?s attitude to the NATO intervention in Kosovo, which naturally didn?t go down well in Albania. Nano?s wife is Greek, and this has been used against him. He is also accused of being in the pocket of the Greek Telecomms companies and worse ?


    This is par for the course in Albania. Albanians friends were bizarrely hysterical about a recent oil-spill in the Gulf of Saranda, when what was probably a standard tank-washing en route to an Italian terminal was apparently portrayed in the Albanian media as a deliberate Greek attempt to sabotage nascent Albanian tourism ? never mind that oil slicks trave quite unpredictably in that area and that this one could just as easily have polluted Corfu. It took a while before a government statement was issued to calm matters down, and even then, Nano?s ?Greek connection? was blamed again.

    All of this has is surrounded with that peculiar Balkan passion for history, nationalist mythmaking that seeks to root present day issues in 14th Century feudal disputes. For a history buff, it?s fascinating, and for anyone interested in an intelligent Albanian viewpoint on how this works, I recommend Ardian Vehbiu?s fascinating page at http://members.aol.com/Plaku/

  14. Regarding the recent activity (International Activism Festival) involving the youths from the Ukraine, S&M, Georgia, etc., they were organized in cooperation with a movement/organization called MJAFT (Enough). You can find more at http://www.mjaft.org/. It’s the same organization who received help from Gallup International to organize the controversial polls. Personally, I view the issue as a trend that exists here in Albania to pick on everything. Whether the poll was a fraud or not shouldn’t logically be connected to the name issues that Gallup International has with Gallup Organization (the first one in Europe and the second in the U.S.)

    The main issue with Nano is not his origin because most consider him an Albanian bought by the Greeks. However, there have been similar, although less widespread, allegations about Berisha being paid by the Serbs. All are rumours, however, but Nano marrying an Albanian who had lived in Greece for a long time and rumored to be a Greek agent didn’t help (btw, she’s not Greek and coincidentally had the same last name as Nano even before they were married, but is unrelated to him).
    The problem with Nano lies mainly with public discontent to the state of corruption of his government and his indiference to problems, although many people find it more derogatory by offering the “unanswerable” argument that he’s a “Greek.” It’s the equivalent argument to that calling Berisha “the man who caused ’97” (referring to the collapse of the pyramid schemes in which many people lost their houses and almost led to a civil war, as mentioned in Doug’s article).
    Recently Nano has commited a few public gaffes and seems keen on following up. When several Albanians died in a boat off Albania’s shores while trying to get to Italy in January national mourning was postponed because Nano was on vacation and didn’t want to reschedule his plans. Also, it turned out that they could have been saved but the government never apologized for the lack of action. Now he plans to build casinos , an generally unpopular decision. There are contless controversies about government auctions, building roads (esp. one that connects to the border with Kosovo), improving conditions for tourism, electricity, running water, etc.

    Doug, the president has virtually had no power since the moment he was elected (he was elected after a consensual agreement b/w Nano and Berisha). Both sides blame him of favoring the other, although whenever he says anything nobody obeys. He is limited to making declarations like “Don’t force me to enforce the Constitution.”

    We’ll see what happens after the elections on July 3rd, hopefully no riots or anything troubling.

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