What's happening in Albania and how can Tony Blair help?

Here is a political blog, I don’t do them very often but politics is the prime subject in Albania and as an Albanian I like talking politics. It might be a bit long and with no pictures, so bear with me and especially read it until the end as that’s where the concluding lines are ūüôā

Things in Albania are looking as they are going to change, for the best of course, one hopes.

In a recent general election there was a ‘landslide victory’ in favor of the socialist coalition which brought down the party that had been governing the country for the last 8 years, the Democratic Party (right of political spectrum).

The ‘landslide victory’ was coined by Alastair Campbell (the spin doctor), Tony Blair’s communications adviser. He had been to Albania to promote his book the ‘Campbell Diaries’ and from there onward, advised the socialist candidate, Edi Rama for the forthcoming general elections.¬†Edi Rama and his partners won the elections and he is officially PM but not technically until September when the handover between governments (including public administration staff in a very Albanian tradition where every party has its own army of public administrators) will happen.

The media have also released that Tony Blair is going to advise the new PM but the price tag (usually in the order of some millions) and who will pay for it (taxpayer or new PM’s pocket) are unknown.

Many analysts have said that the real winner of the election was a small party from the socialist camp who was until recently in coalition with the ruling (politically opponent) party but a couple of months ago defected and joined its natural ally, the bigger socialist party. There have been rumors in the media and from people that the leader of this small party, has bought the votes that made the difference.

From the losing camp the historic leader, Sali Berisha has resigned and no formal analysis of the loss have been advanced. What analysts have said is that people were fed up, the gap in wealth and living conditions between the people and its rulers were increasingly wider. There have been stories of corruption namely from the small party while in the ruling coalition but also unconvicted ministers accused of crimes.

The bigger story that shocked the country, was related to a blast in an ammunitions’ factory that killed 26 people, including children back in 2006. The minister related to the case, Fatmir Mediu, was accused but acquitted protected by his parliamentary immunity. 4 other people have been killed following an opposition protest that degenerated into official army personnel shooting at the protesters in front of the office of the PM. The protest started, after a video was released of the leader of the small party, where he’s shown negotiating a personal deal with a private company, in order to grant them the concession for a hydro-power plant.

It has to be said that stories of corruption are common in Albania as they are in other countries such as the UK for example, with the MPs expenses scandal or the cover up of the Hillsborough disaster. After all corruption is a common association with power and is certainly not present in developing countries only. The difference is that in Albania corruption stories are more frequent and do not always end with dismissals, resignations or convictions. Things carry on as normal afterwards and the same high profile people are still around.   

One of the key weaknesses is in the justice system that is not very strong and independent¬†but also in the limited power of the media as media company owners¬†often¬†have strong ties with politicians. Another big weakness is in the way public opinion reacts which¬†resembles more ranting over coffee than any formal structures of voicing opinions.¬†People’s¬†historical¬†starting point is that of political abuse directed to them; the crimes and abuses of communism are still there and have not been openly discussed or formally condemned and its victims have not been fully rehabilitated. So people’s expectations of governments are very low and in a way corruption is viewed as the normal way things go.

What commentators have been saying is that this election is a step forward and shows for the first time that people’s discontent matters. People were unhappy with the democrat party and so they chose not to elect its representatives.

That might be true and hopefully it is. But I find two disconcerting aspects. One¬†has to do with the fact that despite many big infrastructure projects (the main one being an expensive motorway that winds through a chain of mountains to connect Albania to Kosovo) and important political achievements (joining the NATO after having been part of the communist bloc for 45 years, freedom to travel without visas in most European Countries) that happened under Berisha’s watch, the result of the election is the opposite of what Berisha might have expected. But perhaps roads and freedom to travel were seen as luxury for people who still leave in poverty and have no access to decent standards of living.¬†

The other aspects is about the fact that what people have chosen to elect, as a better alternative to Berisha, is someone who has his own record of corruption. That is the new PM who built a reputation of 10% commissions, for granting planning permissions while he was mayor of Tirana. His ally and deputy to-be  is the very man that was broadcasted in the video showing him in corruptive practice. 

So have things really changed this much? An Albanian commentator, previous political prisoner Fatos Lubonja, has his own theory that the two current political options are part of the same corrupt system and people should choose to vote them out not in.

That is in an ideal world but in the real world where people can be influenced, the choices that the people of Albania have made are different.

Many say, ‘Berisha was voted out and Rama in but we don’t really know what’s coming’.

It is important for foreign commentators and politicians not to be naive about the current elections and who the real winners are, the people or politicians. But the news that Tony Blair is to advise the new PM is seen as promising and as something that will help Albanians in their efforts to join the EU. I read that the granting of the candidate status might come by the end of the year. That would be a great achievement but also massive motivation to continue the process of developing the country to bring real benefits to its people.

Tony Blair is a European ally¬†and therefore a more natural alternative for Albanian politics than the democrats favorite, George W. Bush and hopefully Blair’s influence over the new Albanian PM will be more sensible.¬†

If Tony Blair can help with economic policies and political reforms, it doesn’t matter very much about the candidate status, as long as jobs are created, corruption is reduced, criminal activity and earnings are replaced with real opportunities for young people.¬†

If that happens, that would be a real landslide victory.

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