By Genc Mlloja
TIRANA, Albania—The head of the center-right Democratic Party (DP) in Albania, Sali Berisha, conceded defeat in the premier election to the challenger, Edi Rama, the head of Socialist Party (SP), a left-wing political force built on the foundations of the Party of Labor of Albania, which ruled Albania with an iron-fist for almost five decades until 1991.
"We have lost these elections. The responsibility for this falls on one person, and it is on me, Sali Berisha," Berisha said with a trembling voice in front of a tearful crowd of supporters at the DP Headquarters in Tirana three days after election day.
"I stand in front of you to say that the election result is clear. Of course, I accept it, and the Democratic Party accepts it," said Berisha, 68, a cardiologist by profession, who, after the fall of communism, became the dominant political figure on Albania’s political scene.
Removing any fear of disputes during the transfer of power, Berisha declared he would resign from all party functions. He assured, however, that he would stay on as acting premier until the new parliament convenes in September.
The preliminary result released on June 27 by the Central Election Commission (CEC)—which worked with only four majority members, because the three others were members of the opposition and had abandoned it—showed that Rama’s left-wing coalition the “Alliance for European Albania” obtained 84 seats in the 140-member parliament while Berisha’s coalition the “Alliance for Employment, Welfare, and Integration” only acquired 56.
Albania, a small Balkan country with a population of 2.8 million and a territory of about 11,000 square miles, opens up to the Adriatic Sea on the West and shares borders with Italy, Greece in the south, Montenegro in the north, and Macedonia and Kosovo in the East. The country has passed through tumultuous times since the fall of communism in 1991, when it was called the last domino among the ex-East European communist countries.
The return of tens of thousands of Albanians working in neighboring Greece and Italy over the past two years is said to be the cause of a turnout that was 53.5 percent higher than in the previous elections, an electoral authority says. Strange as it may seem there were 3.3 million eligible voters in a country that the 2011 census found only 2.8 million inhabitants. The explanation is that more than one million Albanians live abroad, mainly in Greece and Italy.
In 1997, following the collapse of pyramid schemes in which citizens lost their life-savings, Albania was at the brink of a civil war. The bloody turmoil forced Berisha, president of the country at that time, to resign making way for the return of the left-wing Socialists, which ruled until 2005.
Berisha became fed up with the massive corruption of the SP Government led by Fatos Nano for eight years, and led the DP to victory under the motto: “Zero tolerance against corruption!”
Ironically enough, the failure to keep to his old pledge “to run the government with clean hands,” is one of the major reasons, besides the grave economic living conditions of most of the people in the country, he is “unwanted” for the second time in his political career.
Ilir Meta, a former premier and foreign minister in Socialist governments, but also deputy premier and foreign minister in the Berisha's administration until April 1, strongly supports the SP led-coalition the “Alliance for European Albania” headed by Rama. The coalition will be faced with the two tasks that led to Berisha’s defeat: fighting against corruption and the improvement of economic conditions of ordinary Albanians, most of whom live on $2 a day.
No politician in Albania has ever been sent to jail under the charges of corruption though many, from both the left and right wings, have been accused and even caught red-handed in corrupt affairs.
With these concerns in mind, at his first appearance in front of hundreds of supporters at SP Headquarters in Tirana on June 24, Rama, 48, a painter by profession, said as Prime Minister he would serve all people regardless of their political beliefs in a bid to transform Albania into a truly EU country. Considering the victory as plebiscitary, Mr. Rama said that together with the Socialist Movement for Integration and other members of the coalition, “We will try and display all the European values for strengthening democracy and reviving the country’s economy.”
After an exchange of unethical words during the electoral campaign from both sides, it was surprising to hear Rama’s words of gratitude to his rival, Berisha for “every good deed during his eight years in power,” wishing him all the best in his personal life. In addition Rama noted that at the end of his coalition’s mandate, Albanians will have their say and judge his performance, keeping in mind the popular vote, rather than just the vote of loyal supporters, activists of the SP, SMI, and other small parties of the AEA coalition, brought the landslide victory to them, which was unexpected by even the most optimistic, left wing analysts.
Rama takes the premier’s post after having served three terms as Tirana’s mayor (2000-2011). He became the leader of the Socialist Party in 2005, when Nano lost the elections to Berisha.
According to the first assessments by OSCE/ODIHR, these parliamentary elections were the most successful to date, despite being overshadowed by an exchange of fire in the town of Lac one day before the election during which a SMI activist was killed and a DP candidate was wounded. Some 800 local and international observers, including a 400-strong mission from OSCE, monitored the election process. "The elections were free and, according to my opinion, quite fair,” Roberto Battelli, the Special Coordinator of the OSCE observer mission, said.
Albania is now facing a new reality in which citizens believe and expect results to be delivered. The unexpected landslide vote in favor of the left-wing coalition is a strong indication that the new rulers should not think that Albanians will be satisfied by a mere rotation of power. Four years pass very quickly, and people will return to the polls and give their verdict with more of an awareness of what they deserve and require from the rulers of their choice.
This remains the biggest challenge for the new coalition as the country aspires to join the European Union.
Genc Mlloja is the editor-in-chief of the Albanian Daily News.
[Photo courtesy of European People's Party]