Election preview: Albania

Albania goes to the polls on Sunday, with the centre-left government of prime minister Edi Rama strongly favored to win re-election.

There’s a cautious optimism in most reports about Albania, after a political crisis earlier this year was ended by agreement between Rama’s Socialist Party and the opposition Democratic Party (centre-right), led by Sali Berisha. The opposition had been boycotting parliament due to a dispute over legislation to address judicial corruption, but the compromise allowed the legislation to pass and the parliamentary election to be held after a one-week delay.

The Socialists have been in government since 2013, in coalition with the smaller Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI). After the previous election, in 2009, when centre-left and centre-right had each won 70 seats, the LSI had switched sides and gone into coalition with the Democrats. But last time around they returned to the fold, and LSI leader Ilir Meta was appointed last April to the ceremonial post of president.

So Rama’s goal this time is to win enough seats to not have to rely on the LSI. Voting is by proportional representation within each of twelve multi-member counties with a 3% overall threshold, but parties can form alliances that allow smaller parties within them to win seats, provided the alliance as a whole reaches 5%. Last time the centre-left alliance won 54.8% of the vote and 84 seats, of which the Socialists had 41.3% and 66 seats.

There are also two new centrist parties: Libra, which is left-liberal, and Challenge for Albania, which is more populist (although both are said to be strongly pro-European). But neither is making much of an impression in the opinion polls, which show the two major parties continuing to dominate, with the Socialists maintaining a comfortable lead.

Albania has officially been a candidate country for European Union membership since 2014, but accession talks are yet to begin. Both major parties are keen for the process to get under way, and it’s not at all clear what purpose the EU’s foot-dragging is serving.

Granted that there are problems of various sorts in the western Balkans – although Albania, despite this year’s crisis, has been one of the better performers of recent years – none of them are likely to be helped by sending the message that Brussels isn’t interested. It makes more sense to emphasise the carrot of EU membership: as one of the world’s more successful Muslim democracies, Albania would be a particularly valuable addition.

The Financial Times preview of the election is particularly good, and you can check out other reports from Reuters and Balkan Insight. Results should appear some time Monday morning; the electoral commission’s website is here.

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