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Albanian Democracy 2023 – The choice between drug cartels and a democracy

Mumtaz Moosa |
11 May 2023 | 17:00 CAT
2 min read

Photo Credit: Free Press

The Republic of Albania has scheduled its upcoming local elections for May 14, 2023. In the previous local elections on June 30, 2019, the opposition boycotted, resulting in a low turnout of only 21.6%.

As a result, all local self-governance positions were occupied by candidates from the Socialist Party (PS) led by Edi Rama. The last local elections were held amid a tense political atmosphere as the Albanian opposition withdrew from Parliament and organised street protests in Tirana, calling for Prime Minister Rama’s resignation, an interim government’s formation, and general elections.

Edi Rama’s police operation to destroy the drug business in the Lazaret village was expected to end it, but it turned out that he only took control of it. Instead of reforms and democratisation, Rama initiated the “cannabisation of Albania” and allowed politico-criminal structures to control the drug business, making Albania a haven for criminals worldwide, thanks to the visa-free regime with EU countries that allows them to move and operate freely and profit from drug and human trafficking. Rama’s leadership has closed the doors of EU membership to Albania as long as he is in power.

In Albania, violent crime is often linked to organised crime, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, police, and media. The main challenges for controlling drug trafficking in Albania are the weak rule of law, corruption, and high unemployment rates. Criminal justice reforms should remove judges and prosecutors with ties to organised crime and focus on enhancing interagency cooperation and limiting global organised crime operations to address these issues.

The US supports judicial reforms in Albania through advisory services, the development of capacities for prosecutors and investigators, and the provision of specialised equipment. Albania must continue to push for judicial reforms, enhance regulations against money laundering, and work on eliminating the influence of organised crime on the government and society.

At the local elections, 3,650,550 eligible voters can vote at 5,211 polling stations. Forty-eight political parties with 23,788 candidates will participate in the local elections. Of the total number, 144 candidates, including 15 women, aspire to become presidents of municipalities. Three hundred twenty-four international observers will monitor the elections. Albania has 61 municipalities and needs a thorough local self-governance reform. 

Albania is still the poorest country in Europe, although it has exceptional potential for development. Both the EU and NATO failed concerning the resolution of the political crisis in Albania.

The upcoming local elections in Albania feature a key competition between the ruling Socialist Party, led by Prime Minister Edi Rama, and the “Together We Win” coalition, led by former presidents Sali Berisha and Ilir Meta. Although the campaigns are focused on major cities such as Tirana, Elbasan, and Durrës, polls show that the two parties are evenly matched in terms of public support. The coalition dominates in the north, but its support also grows in the south. While pre-election polls are not always a reliable indicator of election outcomes, they are used to informing campaign strategies, debates, and analyses.

Analysts believe that the upcoming elections in Albania transcend the character and relevance of local elections because they are an opportunity to embark on the showdown with Edi Rama’s regime and the decriminalisation of Albania. An alliance between Sali Berisha and Ilir Meta through the “Together We Win” coalition brings together opposition political forces. It represents a mass movement of discontented citizens of Albania ready to fight for the showdown with drug cartels, crime, and corruption.

The local elections are a kind of opportunity for the citizens of Albania to choose whether they wish to have a drug cartel rule the country or a parliamentary republic – of which the citizens have been predominantly robbed and deprived over the past ten years. The elections have to be transparent, accessible, and fair.



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