Freedom in the World
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Prime Minister Sali Berisha retained his post after his Democratic Party won parliamentary elections in June. However, the opposition Socialist Party mounted protests to demand a recount and boycotted the new parliament through the end of the year. Albania achieved a major goal in April, when it formally joined NATO; it filed an application to join the European Union later that month.
Ruling from World War II until his death in 1985, communist dictator Enver Hoxha turned Albania into the most isolated country in Europe. The regime began to adopt more liberal policies in the late 1980s, and multiparty elections in 1992 brought the Democratic Party (PD), led by Sali Berisha, to power. Continuing poverty and corruption, along with unrest after the 1997 collapse of several vast investment scams, resulted in the election of a new government led by the Socialist Party (PS).
Berisha and the PD returned to power in the 2005 parliamentary elections. While the poll was not free from fraud, it was praised for bringing Albania’s first postcommunist rotation of power without significant violence. In 2007, the parliament elected PD candidate Bamir Topi as the country’s new president.
Berisha’s government was plagued by allegations of corruption and abuse of office in 2008, including a case stemming from a weapons depot explosion that killed 26 people and destroyed hundreds of homes in March. Nevertheless, the PD secured a narrow victory in the June 2009 parliamentary elections, which were held under a new electoral code passed in late 2008. The ruling party took 68 seats in the 140-seat parliament and eventually formed a coalition government with four much smaller parties: the Socialist Movement for Integration, a PS splinter group that won four seats; the Republican Party, with one seat; the Union for Human Rights, an ethnic Greek party, with one seat; and the Union for Justice and Integration, a party representing the Cham minority, with one seat. This left the PS, with 65 seats, in opposition. It boycotted the new parliament, which convened in September, and mounted a series of street protests to demand a fraud investigation and a partial ballot recount. Berisha countered that the courts had approved the results. The opposition boycott continued at year’s end.
Albania was formally welcomed into NATO in April 2009, and later that month it filed its application to join the European Union (EU), with which it already had a Stabilization and Association Agreement. However, EU accession remained uncertain and would not come before 2015.
Albania is an electoral democracy. International observers of the 2009 parliamentary elections hailed improvements in a number of areas, but also cited problems including media bias, abuse of state resources, political pressure on public employees, and flaws in the tabulation process. Under a new electoral code passed in late 2008, the unicameral, 140-member Kuvendi Popullor (People’s Assembly) was elected through proportional representation in 12 regional districts of varying size. All members serve four-year terms. The prime minister is designated by the majority party or coalition, and the president—who does not hold executive powers but heads the military and plays an important role in selecting senior judges—is chosen by the parliament for a five-year term.
Women are underrepresented in most governmental institutions. A new 30 percent quota for party candidate lists helped to raise women’s presence in the parliament to 23 seats in 2009, from 10 in 2005, though the quota rules contained a number of loopholes. Domestic violence, which is believed to be widespread, is rarely punished by the authorities. Albania is a source country for trafficking in women and children, with the latter typically exploited as beggars in European countries. The EU reported in 2009 that the government has made an effort to combat the practice, but that human and financial resources remain insufficient.