Watching closely: Albanian Elections and Relations with the West

The Albanian election season began March 25th, 2021, where the sitting Prime Minister, Edi Rama of the Socialist Party (SP), will be competing for reelection against the coalition parties headed by the Democratic Party’s (DP) candiate Lulzim Basha. The parliamentary elections, where 13 parties are in the running, are set to take place April 25th. Candidates will set out their platforms for the key issues of economic recovery post Covid-19 and EU accession. While the difference between parties has narrowed, the SP is, nevertheless, projected to win, with 41.3% of the ballot.

As the international community gathers to monitor the elections, the European Union and the United States have issued statements to set out their “expectations and hopes” in regards to the process; both have urged mutual respect and transparency to guarantee the legitimacy of the outcome. Moreover, US Ambassador to Tirana, Yuri Kim, has warned against the inclusion of candidates that the US Secretary of State has designated as involved in corruption and organized crime, calling upon parties to vet their members.

The elections come as Albania’s European Union accession hangs in the balance; the European Parliament passed a resolution on March 26th, 2021, asserting Albania’s “clear and strategic orientation and commitment to the country’s EU integration.” 5 The resolution, which passed through a vote 581-61, emphasized that “the Albanian general elections on 25 April 2021 will be key for the consolidation and renewal of Albania’s democratic process.” Both candidates have set out joining the EU as a priority, making it a focal point of the election. However, tensions between the current Prime Minister and the EU intensified, with Rama’s accusations of the European Commission’s interference in the elections to benefit his opponent. In response to Commissioner Gabriel’s participation in an online event on education where DP presented their plan for reforms in education and research, Rama tweeted, “To my knowledge, the European Commission is not in the habit of sticking its nose into election campaigns, and I expect to learn it officially and publicly from Brussels if I am wrong…”

The new accusations surfaces amidst Rama’s recent remarks condemning the EU’s vaccine rollout, calling it “morally and politically unacceptable.” He highlighted that, “If you see how the EU has conceived this process, for the moment, it has decided to think only of itself.” 10 Albania, who has suffered huge tourism losses due to the pandemic, has been hopeful of vaccinating their population to reopen their borders. However, the European Union’s inability to procure an effient vaccination program and adequate supply, has made the Balkan nation look elsewhere to secure doses. When asked about acquiring vaccines from the EU, Albanian epidemiologist Ilir Alimehmeti noted that Albanians had been let down by the EU so many times that “expectations are not very high, so disappointment cannot be very big.” Tirana, who received less than 100,000 Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Sputnik V doses, was forced to look to China. While initially wary of the Chinese vaccine, Sinovac, due to Beijing’s prior support for Albania’s dictatorship, it has since been embraced. Albania secured 192,000 doses of Sinovac, signaling a reemerging trust between the two nations. Additionally, Rama announced Sinovac plans to build a factory in Albania to produce different vaccines, cementing the newfound relationship’s longevity. While Albania will seek EU integration, the Covid-19 pandemic and recent tensions amidst the elections may be a point of concern in the future between Albania and the West.

The Editor: Miriam Yakobashvili

Miriam Yakobashvili is an international relations BA student at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. She has focused on research in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, previously interning at the U.S. Ukraine Foundation and researching for a University of Georgetown Professor. Speaking four languages, English, Russian, Spanish, and Georgian, Miriam’s research interests vary with writings concerning Kurdistan Regional Government and occupied regions around the world. 

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