2021 Elections in Albania: "Facadization" of Tirana and "cannabization" of Albania

The tenth parliamentary elections in Albania since the fall of the communist regime headed by Enver Hoxha in 1991 are due to take place on 25 April 2021.

At the parliamentary elections 140 members of the Parliament will be elected in 12 multimember constituencies through the open-list system and using proportional representation, with a 1% national threshold and allocation of mandates on the basis of the d’Hondt method.

The demographic changes have led also to changes in the number of seats for specific constituencies. In example, the Tirana constituency will elect 36 representatives, Fier 16, Elbasan 14, Shkodra 11, Lezha 7, Berat 7, and Kukës only three representatives. In February 2019 the opposition withdrew from the work of the Albanian parliament.

The upcoming parliamentary elections will once again mean a confrontation between two political groups, one is gathered around the Socialist Party (PS/S&D) and Prime Minister Edi Rama and the other one is the opposition group led by the Democratic Party (PD/EPP) headed by Lulzim Basha, which includes the Movement for Socialist Integration (LSI) headed by Monika Kryemadhi. However, some minor political parties will also participate. The specificity of these elections is the newly adopted controversial election law which regulates that pre-election coalitions are no longer allowed. The law is aimed to prevent consolidation of the opposition, although the PD and LSI, in cooperation with another minor party, had already announced establishment of a pre-election and postelection coalition. The Democratic Party (PD) and the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) boycotted the local elections[2] that took place on 30 June 2019, which were organized by Edi Rama’s regime. The turnout at the elections was 22.96% and only the Socialist Party (PS) participated in them.

With the collapse of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime in 1991, the retrograde forces in Albania were defeated. Following the arrival of Edi Rama and his Socialist Party (PS), which has its roots in the former communist party of Albania, to power in 2013 these forces were revived through establishment of a regime that is a combination of regimes of Slobodan Milošević and Enver Hoxha.

“Facadization” of Tirana and “cannabization” of Albania

Edi Rama was the Mayor of Tirana from 2000 to 2011. Rama, an academy trained painter, attracted the attention of the international public with the project of “facadization” of Tirana. Rama gave color and design to many old communist-style buildings located all over the city. Some buildings were painted in red, blue and green stripes, while the facades of some buildings were fully decorated with various patterns. While Rama did not manage to resolve more important problems of Tirana, the city has definitely become more appealing thanks to the facelift of facades. However, the “facadization” of Tirana was a cover for money laundering. In fact, in the “facadization period” Rama established and developed his relations with the mafia, which are present to this day. After Edi Rama’s appointment as the Prime Minister, Albania became the “capital of cannabis in Europe“, as cannabis had become the main “industry” with an estimated “annual budget” of four billion Euros.Numerous officials and closest associates of Prime Minister Rama are involved in crimes. Minister of Internal Affairs Saimir Tahiri (PS) was convicted on 18 September 2019 to five years of imprisonment for serious crimes. The sentence was subsequently reduced to three years and four months due to the shortened trial. The court dismissed the three counts from the indictment by the prosecutor and sentenced him on the count of abuse of office. However, Tahiri will not serve his sentence in prison. The court pronounced a suspended sentence of three years and banned him from holding public office in this period.

His successor in the position of the Minister of Internal Affairs Fatmir Xhafaj (PS) admitted that in Italy his brother had served a sentence of imprisonment for drug trafficking, only after the publication of intercepted phone conversations which revealed that the Minister’s brother was involved in drug trafficking in Vlore, Albania and had offered police protection to criminals.

The agreement achieved on 17 May 2017 between the opposition and the government, at the proposal of the EU and US opened the path to parliamentary elections on 25 June 2017. Representatives of the opposition in the then caretaker government, which according to the agreement was headed by Rama, publicized an official Report revealing that a major number of Rama’s political officials, including his two ministers of internal affairs, were involved in election fraud. The report also documented their connections with criminal networks and how they supported Rama’s tampering with parliamentary elections in 2017. The same election fraud scenario has been prepared for the parliamentary elections scheduled for 25 April 2021 as well.

Instead of pursuing reforms, development and further democratization of the country, Edi Rama launched the process of “cannabization of Albania.” A significant portion of arable land is under cannabis cultivation, and the “business” is in the hands and under the control of political-criminal structures. During the mandate of Edi Rama as the prime minister, Albania became a criminal refuge for criminals from Europe, Asia, North and South America. A mitigating circumstance in Albania for the criminal structures is the visa-free regime, which Albania has with EU member countries, as it enables the criminals to move freely, “do business” and make enormous profit from drug and human trafficking.

In the period from 2014 to 2017, Albania became a leading country in production, supply and trade in cannabis in Europe, as was confirmed by Europol[3], US State Department[4] and the United Nations (UN)[5]. Throughout this period the opposition constantly accused the socialist government, and particularly the Minister of Internal Affairs Saimir Tahiri, of being directly involved in the “narco-business.” After the publication of the official transcripts of intercepted phone conversations on 30 January 2019, it transpired that dozens of socialist representatives, socialist mayors and other senior officials had been directly involved in the organized crime related to purchase of votes, intimidation of voters, forgery of documents and other criminal activities before and during the vote at general elections in 2017. There is clear evidence of collusion at high level between the socialist government and criminals, which led to booming of production and trade of drugs.

The first accusations against Minister Tahiri in relation to drug trafficking were made by Dritan Zagani, Albanian police officer involved in the fight against narco-mafia. After he had been accused of leaking information, he was arrested by the Albanian police. Zagani fled the country and sought asylum in Switzerland. Once in asylum he stated that his arrest was a matter of revenge by Minister Saimir Tahiri for the investigation conducted into Minister’s connections with drug traffickers.

In September 2017, the Albanian opposition proposed constitutional amendments pertaining to the security vetting of all Albanian politicians and investigation into the origin of their property. Following an evident agreement between the Socialist Party and criminal networks, the new socialist majority rejected the proposal.

Media exposes mafia-nature of Rama’s regime

In January 2019, the Voice of America (VOA)[6] broadcasted footage of an official investigation by the office of the prosecutor, which was focused on the criminal gang in Durrës, which is the second largest district in Albania. Some 60 transcripts and CDs testified about the close cooperation between the Avdyli gang and the socialist mayor of Durrës Vangjush Dako[7] in the activities related to the purchase of votes and intimidation of voters during the 2017 elections.

In addition to the Voice of America, the German Bild[8] and BIRN[9] also conducted independent journalism investigations that revealed the existence of “Case 339” and “Case 184” in the office of the prosecutor. “Case 339” is related to a dozen of CDs containing information on intercepted phone conversations between the Avdyli gang and socialist ministers, the Durrës mayor, representatives and other senior officials. At the request of German authorities, the Avdyli gang was put under police surveillance in relation to trafficking of hard drugs. The intercepted phone conversations have shown that the Avdyli gang had directly supported socialist representatives in the purchase of votes during the 2107 parliamentary elections in exchange for award of contracts at public tenders, impunity and political support to their criminal activities. “Case 184” proves that the socialist representatives in cooperation with organized crime networks had used the same strategy for purchase of votes in the Dibër county during the partial local elections in 2016. Although the Avdyli gang was convicted for drug trafficking, the judicial system did not address the elections aspect of these cases. At one point in the trial, the prosecution summoned the election commissioner to appear in court as a witness. However, the commissioner was already dead and the prosecution was not aware of that… Have the criminals bribed and established full control of the Albanian judicial system as well?

At the time when crime intensity was at its height, in 20109, neither the Constitutional Court nor the Supreme Court of Albania were in function (due to the inability to reach a political agreement of election of judges). In 2020, thanks to the efforts of Albanian President Ilir Meta the vacant judicial positions were manned. In practice, this simultaneously meant that the opposition was not able to file an appeal with the Constitutional Court, because all the power was concentrated in one man – Prime Minister Edi Rama.

As Prime Minister Rama is in the epicenter of the agreement with criminal networks and has almost absolute power, the opposition was not able to use the legal remedies. Therefore, the opposition constantly invited Rama to resign and in such a way end the agony of the country, which could even result in the collapse of a country.

In February 2019, the Albanian opposition decided to annul its mandates and requested free and fair elections. Since then it has not been participating in the work of the parliament.

Silencing the media as a prerequisite for authoritarian rule  

Edi Rama has embarked on a severe showdown with the media. “Agon Channel” was one of the most ambitious media projects in the Balkans and it was founded in 2013. It gathered media stars, used state of art top notch technology and broadcasted innovative programs which attracted a very large audience. However, everything ended suddenly in October 2015, after Edi Rama had decided to close down this TV station. It seemed that Prime Minister Rama did not appreciate investigative journalism and TV investigations into corruption and election fraud of his government. At the request of the owner of the “Agon Channel“, an Italian citizen and businessman, the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes with the World Bank rendered a decision in April 2019[10] that the Albanian government had violated the law and is due to pay back 111 million Euros for illegal closing down of the TV station. This was a fiasco, both financial and political, for the Rama’s government. However, Rama’s war against free media did not end there. In August 2020, the Albanian government put under state administration and forcible sequestration another media outlet. Specifically, the OraNews, which is one of the most prominent media outlets investigating Rama’s scandals. On the other side, individuals running the Top Channel media group, which publicly promotes a positive media image of Rama’s government, get awarded contracts at public tenders, enjoy privileges, including shares in a very controversial project related to incineration of waste, worth more than 430 million Euros. In both cases, through pressure and financial donations, Prime Minister Rama demonstrated very controversial conduct during his mandate as a prime minister with respect to the freedom of speech and freedom of the media.

In late 2015, Edi Rama started using on daily basis aggressive language against the journalists and derogatory terms for them, including “garbage bins“, fabricators of “lies, slander, stories …“, etc. He asserted the investigating journalism was scandalous and a fabrication by the opposition parties and their media owners. Using the euphoria against fake news generated after the latest elections in the EU and US, he even tried in December 2019, and then in 2020 as well, to adopt a set of laws which would practically introduce censorship of free media and internet publications. The OSCE stated that these laws should “respect the international standards and OSCE commitments on freedom of expression and not impact negatively media freedom in the country.” The Venice Commission[11] of the Council of Europe said the legislative package was extremely problematic. Local and international organizations dealing with the media also filed a complaint against the proposal and identified it as a serious threat to freedom of speech. Finally, in September 2020, the European Commission[12] and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe sent a strong warning against Rama’s rushed (re)actions aimed against free media in Albania.

Unfortunately, it seems that the widely spread crime and corruption are an impediment to the efforts on development of rule of law in Albania. That is the reason behind Rama’s strong attacks on the Albanian media, and particularly his strong readiness and resolve to cover up his links with criminal networks and the underground, as well as his mega-corrupt affairs.

Edi Rama – how a corrupt authoritarian potentate deceives the West

Edi Rama did not manage to rebrand Albanian socialists into a modern European left-wing party, not program-wise nor ideology-wise. The economic recovery, recovery of the society, return of democracy and integration into Europe, as the four key pillars of the program of socialists – have not been implemented. The initial enthusiasm disappeared very quickly and Edi Rama became the symbol of “cannabization of Albania” and the boom of organized crime and narco business. Using the already tested recipe in the region, Rama draws the attention of the public away from these issues by focusing on nationalism and nationalist rhetoric.

Albania has become a case-country when it comes to the silencing of the media. At the same time, public-private partnerships with criminal structures, as a new modern combination of the authoritarian model, are being established in the Balkans before the eyes of the public. As Albania is a country with the highest level of public support to membership in the EU, it is surprising to see how much the integration process has been postponed since 2013. Specifically, since the beginning of the authoritarian rule of Edi Rama, which is maybe the reason behind all the postponements.

The reasons for the existing situation could be found in the “intimate” and direct cooperation between the Albanian Socialist Party (PS) and organized crime networks. The election of individuals with serious criminal files to the parliament and local municipalities resulted in intensification of activities of criminal networks related to production and trafficking of drugs. Such a development was facilitated through their direct cooperation with the executive branch and the tolerance demonstrated by judicial bodies. Subsequently, this was also an additional impetus to the phenomenon of purchase of votes with the funds from criminal and illegal profits from narcotics.

In the conditions of unprecedented undermining of democratic standards, rule of law and balance of forces, MPs from the united Albanian opposition resigned from the Parliament. They also refused to participate at the last local elections which were held in Albania on 30 June 2019, believing that fair and free elections cannot be held under the existing circumstances. As a result, Rama simultaneously took over all the key positions in all the municipalities, the state, legislative and executive branches. As the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court were not functional due to the postponement of the vetting procedures – and it is now debatable whether all this was premeditated as well – Rama became the absolute potentate, who de facto has absolute control of all the segments of the state and society. The key question is who on the West provides support to Rama’s rule and which foreign officials are involved in Rama’s corruption octopus? How does Rama, as a corrupt potentate, deceive the West? The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the fatality of Rama’s regime for citizens of Albania.

Lulzim Basha – the leader who can take Albania into the EU
Lulzim Basha is a different kind of a political leader in Albania. On one side, he is a family man who is in direct communication with the people and daily contact with citizens, owners of small and medium size companies, and particularly the youth. He is fully available and at service to every citizen. His doors are open to all citizens who seek his assistance.On the other side, Basha also maintains a broad network of personal contacts with leaders and heads of states and governments of EU member countries, who regularly talk to him. They engage in consultations and talk about the “day after“, that is the day after Edi Rama steps down from power.

After eight years of authoritarian regime and postponement of integration into the EU, Albania is stagnating in its political development.   Basha, who brought Albania into NATO and achieved the visa-free regime agreement, believes that he has the strength to take Albania to full-fledged membership in the EU. Furthermore, Basha’s political career is spotless, free of crime or corruption.

Is the EU ready and does it want to absorb positive changes in Albania and Western Balkans?

Is the EU ready to absorb the collapse of the regimes in North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and now Albania and to follow the positive trends or will it cooperate with and encourage criminal-corrupted regimes?

The Slovenian chairmanship of the EU will have a key challenge related to the Western Balkans. Specifically, to get a decision on collective integration into the EU for all six Western Balkans countries adopted during the Slovenian chairmanship. Slovenia, as well, was co-opted into the EU in a group of 10 countries in 2004. This is a political decision, which if not adopted will mean not just a political fiasco of Slovenia on the Western Balkans, but maybe even the loss of the Western Balkans for the EU for good. Namely, in a multitude of offers from other interest spheres the Western Balkans could consider pursuing other options.

PD toppled Enver Hoxha’s regime, so it can topple Edi Rama’s regime as well 

Nobody believed that after the overthrow of Enver Hoxha’s regime in 1991, a new regime, which not only reminds of Enver Hoxha’s regime but is a combination of Hoxha’s and Slobodan Milošević’s regimes, would ever be established in Albania again.   Well, history has evidently repeated itself in Albania.

Analysts remind that the Democratic Party had toppled the Enver Hoxha’s regime and that, in cooperation with the modern left-wing Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) and with the support of Albanian citizens at the upcoming elections, it can have the strength to topple Edi Rama’s regime, which is a combination of Slobodan Milošević’s and Enver Hoxha’s regimes. Sali Berisha (PD) and Ilir Meta (LSI), as veterans of Albanian politics, are aware of their historical responsibility and that Albania cannot have a prosperous future under Edi Rama. The fall of Rama’s regime will open a new opportunity for Albania and a new chapter in its development. Albania should not miss this opportunity and its development can be successfully led by Lulzim Basha, as the new Albanian prime minister, who enjoys broad and strong support of key European leaders, particularly those from the European People’s Party (EPP) in the EU.

Ljubljana/Tirana/Brussels/Washington, 3 April 2021

Link (ENG/ALB): https://www.ifimes.org/en/10002