In vote that appears to have been a referendum for breaking with the past, Albanians have voted a new generation of leaders in power, handing the Socialist-led coalition a three-fifths majority in parliament. Edi Rama will be the country’s prime minister, facing many challenges. Sali Berisha, the dominant figure in Albanian politics for 22 years, has taken responsibility for the defeat an has resigned from Democratic Party leadership.
Albanians have voted for a start of a new era in Albanian politics, giving a landslide victory to the Socialist-led coalition and guaranteeing a smooth rotation of power.
Edi Rama, the Socialists’ nominee for prime minister, held a victory speech Tuesday night, promising quick implementation of his coalition’s program to fight crime and corruption, increase employment and improve services such as healthcare and education.
Rama’s speech was followed the next evening by a concession speech by incumbent Prime Minister Sali Berisha who congratulated the winners, took responsibility for the loss and resigned from all party functions after 22 years at the helm, marking an end of an era in Albanian politics, which Berisha had dominated since the fall of communism in the early 1990s.
Socialist supporters on foot and in cars braved a heat wave to celebrate in the city center, waving purple party flags as data by the country’s election commission showed the Socialist-led coalition in a hefty lead over its rival.
The new 140-member parliament will have 84 members from the Socialist-led coalition and 56 from the Democratic-led group. No independent parties were able to make the threshold. The Socialist-led coalition owes much of its gains from the last election to junior coalition partner Socialist Movement for Integration, led by Ilir Meta, which received 16 seats in parliament in the election.
Both Rama, 48, and Berisha, 68, had campaigned on the pledge of gaining EU candidate status for Albania.
“Let’s continue together as a country and as a nation our effort toward the place we deserve — the family of the united Europe,” said Rama in his victory speech in front of hundreds of supporters at party headquarters.
Rama warned his supporters that the joy of the moment will not create “jobs, better education and health systems, or new roads.”
“This victory is not the arrival but only the start. That change will not come overnight and easily. All together we should work and sacrifice to make it happen,” he said.
Because of Albania’s voting system, the popular vote nationally does not directly translate into the number of seats each party will get in the 140-member parliament. Parliamentary seats are awarded on a party’s share of the vote in each of 12 districts. For example, a party which won 50 percent of the vote in a 12-seat district could expect to win six seats.
In addition, the system favors parties that join a large coalition. Despite gaining many votes, the New Democratic Spirit of former President Bamir Topi, for example, failed to get a single seat nationwide, because it ran alone instead of a coalition. The other party running alone, the nationalists of the Red and Black Alliance performed very poorly and they too failed to win a single seat in parliament.
Rama’s conciliatory speech
In an unusual gesture in the ever-squabbling Albanian politics, the Socialist nominee for prime minister, Rama, thanked his predecessor, Prime Minister Berisha of the Democratic Party, “for every good thing, which history tomorrow may evaluate with a higher objectivity than mine today.”
The mere fact that he delivered such thanks in his victory speech is a novelty in Albanian politics which is usually deeply divisive and negative.
He also promised to work hard with allies to meet challenges ahead.
“I will be your prime minister and your chief servant,” Rama told a crowd of supporters in front of the Socialist Party headquarters on Tuesday evening when the opposition Socialist Party coalition had consolidated its victory after more than 90 percent of nationwide ballots had already been counted.
“Today, you, the people of Albania, decided to charge me and our national Renaissance team together and inseparably with our strategic partners of the Socialist Movement for Integration and other allies, this great responsibility,” said Rama.
Jubilant Socialist party supporters drove around Tirana’s main square near the Socialists’ headquarters, honking their horns and waving party flags from the windows.
Sunday’s election was seen as a key test in the country’s ambition to join the European Union.
“This victory is not the finish line but only the start. That change will not come overnight and easily. All together we should work and sacrifice to make it happen,” Rama said.
With all ballots counted from Sunday’s election, the election commission said the Socialists’ coalition had won around 57.7 percent of the vote. Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party-led coalition trailed with 30.6 percent — the worst showing in more than a decade for the Democrats.
But a per-election dispute over the country’s Central Election Commission could complicate the final stages of the vote count. Three of the commission’s seven members pulled out of the body in April in a dispute over Berisha’s replacement of a commission member. With only four members currently in the commission, a legal issue could arise as at least five votes are needed to certify the election results.
An official from the Socialist Party said CEC could issue the final result with four members and then the mandate distribution for members of parliament could be done by the Electoral College, a group of judges set up for election disputes.
The results, once certified, are a crushing blow for Berisha and his party, which will likely need years to rebuild itself. Analysts note it is clear many Albanians chose the vote against the Democrats and Berisha himself, seeing the election as a referendum for change.
Berisha takes responsibility for loss, resigns from Democratic Party leadership
The most dominant political figure of Albania’s post-communist period, Sali Berisha conceded election defeat late Wednesday, taking personal responsibility for the heavy loss to the rival Socialist-led coalition.
Berisha, who had been seeking a third straight term as prime minister in Sunday’s general election, also announced to party supporters he would step down as leader of his center-right Democratic Party. He said he would organize election for the new party leadership in September.
“We have lost these elections. Believe me, the responsibility for this falls on one person — on me, Sali Berisha,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow. “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.”
Before his initial election to the post in Sept. 2005, he served as the country’s president from 1992-97, and was elected to a second term before the government collapsed a few months after the election in the chaos caused by the collapse of pyramid investment schemes in which many Albanian lost their savings.
Albania, once one of the world’s most reclusive countries during its communist years, became a NATO member in 2009 and has applied for European Union candidate status. But so far, its bid has been denied over criticism it has not done enough to fight corruption and push through democratic reforms.
Berisha was hurt by Rama’s anti-corruption focus as the country struggles to weather the effects of recessions in nearby Greece and Italy, where many Albanian migrants work to provide remittances back to their impoverished country.
Having been elected president twice in the 1990s, Berisha remained a divisive figure, praised by supporters as the politician who stabilized post-Communist Albania, but branded by opponents as a populist who tolerated corruption.
A cardiologist, Berisha’s reputation fell by Albania’s 1997 uprising following the collapse of pyramid banking schemes that saw many Albanians lose their savings and triggered violence that required an international peacekeeping force to quell.
International election monitors said the Balkan country had made significant improvements in the June 23 vote, despite a fatal shooting that occurred on voting day outside a polling station in northern Albania.
Improving the election process was a central condition set by the EU to advance negotiations aimed at the country’s eventual membership.
Berisha’s remarks eased tension over the country’s Central Election Commission which has yet to officially certify the results.
The parties were at odds over the commission’s membership ahead of the vote. Three opposition members had pulled out of the body in April in a dispute over Berisha’s replacement of a commission member.
But with Berisha conceding, officials among the Socialist Party have said they will almost certainly certify the vote.
Berisha will remain prime minister until the transition ends in September.
The economy was on top of the agenda for both camps during the electoral campaign with promises on taxes and employment dominating.