Western Balkans and EU News
10.01.22 | Opinions

[Opinion] Beyond the Saturday skirmishes: what is the real democracy challenge in Albania ?

By Genc Pollo 

Images of violence in and around the headquarters of the opposition Democratic Party of Albania were to be seen on Saturday and prompted criticism. However understanding the context is more relevant to the recent political developments in Albania.

 The DP electoral defeat in the 25 April 2021 general elections was the last of uninterrupted election debacles under the eight years of Basha chairmanship. This period was also marred by controversial, contested and consequential Basha personal decisions to abandon Parliament and boycott local elections in 2019. Without these decisions we could have seen a change of government at the ballot box on 25 April. Basha has never regretted his decisions let alone apologize for them.

 In the wake of the 25 April 2021 elections there was a feeling of malaise, resignation and inertia among the party members and functionaries along with passive rejection of the Basha leadership. This fortunately started to change last fall with former chairman (and former President and PM) Berisha launching a tour with party grassroots and openly discussing the situation within the party and in the country.

 The May 2021 designation by the US State Department of Mr. Berisha as "not eligible for entry in the US"  was seen by most (including Basha) as inappropriate, incommensurate, selective, party politically motivated and unjustified; it played a role in the dynamics.  However  Basha decided personally, under US diplomatic pressure, to expel Mr. Berisha from the DP parliamentary group instead of putting it to a vote in the party council as required by the statute. Basha claimed the US move was wrong but he had to comply in order to preserve the DP relationship with the US administration. This didn't improve his standing as party leader. As Mr. Berisha vowed to keep out the DP from the designation issue this matter ought to be kept separate.

 The key development was that strictly following the party statute a big majority of the DP congress delegates (5200 out of 7647 or 68%) signed up for calling an extraordinary party congress. Under the article 43/2 of the statute the congress can be convened by a request of 1/4 of its delegates or 1/4 of the party membership. Basha steadily refused to consider the delegates petition which was formally submitted in writing to his party headquarters and tried to procedurally hamper it.

 However, following the statutory rules, the extraordinary party congress was convened on 11 December with ca 4935  delegates present (or 65% of them) in the Tirana main stadium (myself included). The DP congress decided in secret ballot and by 4446 votes (or 99% of votes casted) to remove Basha and to entrust the party management to a Provisional Committee until the regular party congress on 22 March 2022.

 The Basha removal was put to a membership secret vote on 18 December; 43 879 party members turned out to vote of which 43 385 or 98,8% confirmed the removal.

 Unfortunately Basha refused to accept reality and the will of his party. He first tried to disband the DP Women and Youth organizations which had expressed support for convening the party congress. As the  DP Women & Youth organizations are EPP members both the EPP Women & Students (EDS) protested and called on Basha to stop it. A letter by EPP MEPs suggesting Basha to recognize the congress and members' vote has been circulated.

 Basha called  a gathering on 18 December in a hall with 1958 seats pretending it was the party congress (sic!). He couldn't explain how the hall could house the required minimal quorum (50% plus one) of 3824 delegates.

 The shutting down by Basha last week, on its 31 anniversary, of the DP newspaper "Rilindja Demokratike", which was the first free newspaper after Communism, is another sad event.

Procedures are underway for returning the DP headquarters and legal representation to the legitimate Provisional Committee. Resistance to this, as we are seeing by a very small group of former party officials around Basha, is undemocratic, unlawful and counterproductive.

However the courts are very influenced by the Socialist  government also due to the ongoing vetting process. The ruling party has every interest to keep the weak Basha group as the official opposition. This also explains why the riot police saved the day for Basha allowing him to keep the party HQ.

 The key issue for the democratic development in Albania is a solid and constructive opposition keeping an increasing corruptocratic government in check.

 Basha with no support in the DP grassroots and abysmal values in opinion polls cannot do it. Unprincipled voting support for problematic government measures in the recent weeks, questionable joint initiatives with the government to amend the Constitution and allegations of murky commercial interests have further delegitimized Basha.

 The DP Provisional Committee faces a daunting challenge of rebuilding a credible opposition; it should strive to be seen by the public as a viable power alternative. Different from  other countries in the region post Communist Albania has developed a bipartisan political landscape around the Democratic and Socialist parties which rotated in government and opposition. A third force isn't in the pipeline.

 While the stark images on Saturday caught the national & some European attention the real struggle in the country is about preventing the stranglehold of a cleptocratic regime which has centralized power (and economy & media) and has harnessed a well oiled international lobbying network.

 (The autor is former minister and MP of the Democratic Party)

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com )

10.01.22 | Opinions