Incumbents back in Albania

The last year or so has mostly been pretty good for incumbents around the world, helped by the rallying effect of the health crisis. (Tomorrow we’ll check out the prospects of another one, in Tasmania.) But eastern Europe had been a bit of an exception, with governments in Slovakia and Montenegro losing office last year, and Bulgaria’s apparently joining them earlier this month.

Not so, however, in Albania, where an incumbent government that looked as if it might have been in some trouble has been clearly, if not overwhelmingly, returned to power. With counting now complete, the Socialist Party of prime minister Edi Rama has won 48.7% of the vote and 74 of the 140 seats – up just 0.3% on 2017, and unchanged in terms of seats.

Its main opposition, the alliance headed by the centre-right Democratic Party, gained about 5.1% to finish with 39.4% and 59 seats (last time it was 43 seats for the Democrats running alone and another three for a more right-wing ally). The big loser was the Socialist Movement for Integration, previously an ally of the Socialists but now in opposition: it managed only 6.8% (down 7.5%) and four seats (down 15).

The Social Democratic Party was the only other party to make it into parliament, with 2.2% and three seats (up two). It has also co-operated with the Socialists in the past and may be an ally for Rama if he needs it. Turnout was 46.3%, which sounds bad but is pretty much par for the course in the Balkans. Despite the pandemic and the reported disillusionment with politics, it was down only 0.4% from last time.

If Rama’s government really is as corrupt as some of the pre-election reports suggest, then it’s probably not a good result for Albanian democracy. But by the standards of the region Albania has not been doing too badly lately (its Covid-19 death toll is well below that of most of its neighbors), and if the European Union would only get its act together to start meaningful accession talks it shouldn’t be that hard to keep it on the democratic road.

And in all fairness that needs to be contrasted with Albania’s not-so-distant past. Up until about 30 years ago it was a sort of European version of North Korea, impoverished and cut off from the rest of the world by a mad dictator who had visions of fighting off the superpowers (this BBC photo essay from a couple of years ago gives you something of the flavor). With that perspective, a government in hock to organised crime is not the worst thing possible.

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