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What is at stake in the April 25 election?
by Altin Gjeta
In less than 4 months, Albania will go to the polls for the tenth time since the fall of the Stalinist Hoxhaist regime. After three decades of opening, it is assumed that Albanians will head to the polls to choose between programs and political ideas on how to address the country's problems. But, ironically, Albania has not only not been politically emancipated towards a functioning and consolidated democracy where democratic rules, as scholars Stepan and Linz say, are the only rules of the game in the 'city' (country), but over the last decade under of Edi Rama, it has slipped rapidly towards a Chavista autocracy.
Of course, Albania has found it difficult to get out of the pre-democratic and pre-capitalist situation left by the communist regime. However, after the 1990s, the country managed to take some steps towards openness and integration within the Euro-Atlantic framework and undertook some bold liberalization reforms in 2005-2009. The pluralistic system, although anemic, guaranteed the existence of some kind of competitive hybrid regime. In other words, this means that despite the ongoing problems with elections, control and balance of power, independent institutions, and political parties, the system allowed political parties and citizens to punish failures during their second term.
But after the aggressive erosion politically engineered by the socialist majority of constitutional institutions and the entire democratic order in the country, Albania for the first time is in danger of slipping away from competitive authoritarianism, where there was room for maneuver for the opposition, civil society, and media to stop. the overthrow of the country towards hegemony. This is because the April 25 elections, in terms of the context in which the country is located, risk being unlike any other political election party.
For the first time in post-communist history, the majority controls all power in the country capillary by the Council of Ministers, the dysfunctional Parliament, the local government, most of the media, and any other public and private agency if you will. This makes the government an electoral manipulation machine in the face of all other powerless segments of society. As if that were not enough, Rama, like no one else before, has moved all the stones on the field, changing the constitution and the electoral code unilaterally to ensure electoral advantage at the table.
Second, the April 25 election will be unquestionably marked by the COVID-19 epidemic. The government will try to exploit the health crisis by sowing fear to restrict the freedoms and rights of the individual, as it has done throughout this period. This would prevent citizens from actively participating in politics through open electoral meetings. Rama wants to keep as many dissatisfied citizens at home as possible during the election campaign and on Sunday, April 25, as he knows that a massive turnout would be disastrous for his party. Therefore, under the pretext of the health crisis, the government will try to keep the opposition away from the citizens and electoral rallies so important for weaving its winning halo.
Finally, unlike previous elections, this time it will be difficult for opposition actors to make politics, in the sense of offering realistic alternative ideas on the existential challenges the country is going through, not just Rama's populist style and an empty narrative. makes this venture difficult, but also because the socio-economic structure of Albanian society has degraded. As a result of the pro-oligarchic policies pursued by Rama and the massive corruption in all branches of government, according to international reports (UN and OECD recently), Albania will go to these elections poorer and more empty than ever by young people and free people.
The economic model that Rama has built is an etatist model based on the distribution of revenues collected from high direct and indirect taxation to government clients. In this way, this model has emptied the pockets of Albanians because it does not produce economic growth for citizens, but through labor, policies have become a control mechanism over their lives. Thus, this has led most businesses and individuals to link economic survival with the state budget, ie the government, which in a way has turned them into slaves of power. A poor society, runaway and with its neck in the grip of power has no ear and no interest in listening to political ideas and alternative governing programs.
Thus, in this context, the April 25 election race will be the most unequal in the 30-year history of post-communist Albania. Unfortunately, the circumstances dictate that at stake will not be the vision for a left or right Albania, for the application of a flat or progressive tax, but on the scales will be the choice between freedom and anti-freedom. Of course, Rama's speakers and noisemakers will tell us that in Albania people can speak freely, that there is a constitutional and democratic order, and that in the last instance Rama is not an autocrat, but an artist with taste and refinement. According to Hayek freedoms (in the plural) come into play when, in fact, true freedom is lacking. It may happen that a group of privileged individuals (government courtiers) are free, but much of society is oppressed, Hayek says.
In these conditions, it is required that all segments of Albanian society and opposition actors unite in a single front to bring the dissatisfied to the polls in order to overcome the expected manipulation of the free will of the majority to overthrow Rama and regain freedom. . From here, a new political cycle can be opened which should aim at expanding freedom, as according to Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate in economics, freedom is the foundation of a society's development.