Albania | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Albania

Albania

Partly Free
68/100
Overview: 

Albania has a record of competitive elections, though political parties are highly polarized and often organized around leading personalities. Religious freedom and freedom of assembly are generally respected. Corruption and organized crime remain serious problems despite recent government efforts to address them, and the intermingling of powerful business, political, and media interests inhibits the development of truly independent news outlets. 

Key Developments: 

Key Developments in 2018:

  • A number of antigovernment protests underscored public discontent with the government. These included massive demonstrations by university students against tuition hikes, and separate protests against a new toll road, a major development plan in Tirana, and a taxation scheme opposed by many small business owners.
  • In response to the student protests, Prime Minister Edi Rama reshuffled half his cabinet in late December, and promised dialogue with students and fulfilment of their demands.
  • An ongoing vetting process for members of the judiciary led to the dismissal or resignation of numerous judges over unexplained assets.
  • A number of members of the ruling Socialist Party (PS) were charged with involvement in drug trafficking schemes.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

POLITICAL RIGHTS: 28 / 40

A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 8 / 12

A1.      Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

The president is the head of state and is chosen by the parliament for a maximum of two five-year terms; the office does not hold executive power, though the president heads the military and plays a key role in selecting senior judges. The prime minister is the head of government, and is designated by the majority party or coalition. Because both the president and prime minister are selected by lawmakers, their legitimacy is generally dependent on the conduct of parliamentary elections.

In April 2017, Ilir Meta, the head of the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), was selected as president. PS leader Edi Rama retained his position as prime minister of Albania following the 2017 parliamentary elections.

A2.      Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

Albania is a parliamentary republic. The unicameral, 140-member Kuvendi (Assembly) is elected through proportional representation in 12 regional districts of varying size. All members serve four-year terms.

Events preceding the 2017 elections reflected ongoing distrust between the Democratic Party (PD)—the main opposition grouping—and the ruling PS. In December 2016, the president called parliamentary election for the following June. The PD began boycotting the parliament the following February, claiming that the PS would commit massive electoral fraud. A standoff ensued, with tensions escalating in May 2017, when the PD held a large opposition protest in Tirana. However, international mediators from the US and European Union (EU) facilitated an agreement between the two parties later that month, under which the PD was guaranteed several positions in the government, including one deputy prime minister, six ministers, the chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC), and directors of several public agencies.

Elections were held in June 2017, a week later than initially scheduled. The PS won 74 of the 140 seats, enough to govern without the support of other parties. Voter turnout was 46.8 percent. Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) praised the polls’ conduct, but noted that the mediated agreement that facilitated the elections resulted in the “selective and inconsistent application” of electoral laws. The mission also noted allegations of vote-buying and voter intimidation.

A3.      Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2 / 4

The OSCE, in its report on the 2017 polls, expressed concern that the CEC had not always operated with transparency, and at times had failed to sanction parties that committed electoral violations, such as failing to adhere to gender quotas in certain districts. The OSCE additionally noted that the CEC faced a number of logistical challenges in administering elections due to the provisions of the political agreement that facilitated the polls, and that the agreement had subverted parts of the electoral framework. For example, as part of the deal a new CEC chairperson was installed weeks before the elections, outside of the standard legal procedure.

B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 13 / 16

B1.      Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3 / 4

Albanian citizens generally have the right to organize in political parties. The two main parties, the PS and the PD, are sharply polarized and given to personality-driven rivalry.

Candidates for legislative elections who do not belong to a party currently seated in the parliament must collect a set number of signatures in order to run. The OSCE noted that in 2017, the CEC refused requests by the opposition for additional scrutiny of signatures supporting candidates for certain parties, which reduced transparency and could potentially contribute to an unequal playing field among political parties.

B2.      Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

Albania’s multiparty system provides ample opportunity for opposition parties to participate in the political process, and elections have resulted in the rotation of power among parties.

B3.      Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 3 / 4

People are generally free to make their own political choices, but powerful economic actors have some ability to shape the political sphere through their media holdings and influence on electoral campaigns.

B4.      Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4

Election officials provided voter education materials in minority languages for the 2017 polls.

Members of the Roma minority and other marginalized groups remain vulnerable to political exploitation and vote-buying schemes, such as ones involving the distribution of fuel vouchers or cash. Women are underrepresented both in politics and election administration roles.

C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 7 / 12

C1.      Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3 / 4

In 2017, elections, and thus the timely formation of a new government, were threatened by an impasse between the PD and PS that persisted until international mediators facilitated a political agreement. Once installed, Albanian governments are generally able to formulate and implement policy.

C2.      Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4

Corruption is pervasive, and the EU has repeatedly called for rigorous implementation of antigraft measures. The Special Prosecutor Service was established as part of 2016 reforms, and is tasked with prosecuting high-level corruption; it is functional but has yet to achieve full operational capacity.

A number of high-profile PS figures have been recently accused with involvement in drug-trafficking schemes. PS lawmaker and former interior minister Saimir Tahiri was charged with corruption and drug trafficking in May 2018 and temporarily placed under house arrest. He resigned from the Assembly after being charged, and proceedings against him were ongoing at year’s end. In October, two former Socialist lawmakers were arrested on charges of corruption and involvement in organized crime related to drug trafficking. They were released and placed under house arrest in November.

Fatmir Xhafaj, who had succeeded Tahiri as interior minister, resigned in October amid protests by the opposition that it was inappropriate for him to lead the ministry, given his half-brother’s past drug-trafficking conviction. He was not charged with any crime.

C3.      Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4

A robust law on access to information is not well implemented. Public procurement processes and public finances are frequently opaque, though parliamentary procedures are more open and accessible.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: 40 / 60

D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 13 / 16

D1.      Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

While the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the intermingling of powerful business, political, and media interests inhibits the development of independent news outlets; most are seen as biased toward either the PS or the PD. Reporters have little job security and remain subject to lawsuits, intimidation, and occasional physical attacks by those facing media scrutiny. Print media has continued to experience declining revenue, which has driven down journalists’ salaries.

The OSCE and international media organizations criticized an October 2018 announcement by Rama that news websites must register with the tax authority, as well as the Communications Authority’s subsequent publication of a list of noncompliant sites, which it threatened with closure. Many of the outlets claimed they were already registered as businesses or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Rama claimed that registration requirement was part of antidefamation campaign.

D2.      Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, which is generally upheld in practice.

D3.      Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4

The government typically does not limit academic freedom, though teachers in several districts have faced pressure ahead of elections to participate in political rallies. Access to higher education is affected by corruption.

D4.      Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4

There are no significant restrictions on free and open private discussion, including for online blogs and social media.

E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 9 / 12

E1.      Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4

Freedom of assembly is generally respected. Demonstrations by opposition parties and civic groups are common, and they have generally been peaceful. A number of demonstrations took place in 2018. Civil society organizations demonstrated in July against a proposal to demolish the National Theatre in Tirana in order to build a new theatre and several skyscrapers. Following massive student protests against a university fee increase, which later grew to include demands for major changes in the university system, the prime minister reshuffled half his cabinet in late December, promising dialogue with students and fulfilment of their demands. Other protests during 2018, including those by small business owners over matters related to taxation, and local residents against a new toll road on a national highway, underscored public discontent with the government.

E2.      Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4

NGOs generally function without restriction, but have limited funding and policy influence.

E3.      Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4

The constitution guarantees workers the rights to organize and bargain collectively, and most have the right to strike. However, effective collective bargaining remains limited, and union members have little protection against discrimination by employers.

F. RULE OF LAW: 9 / 16

F1.       Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the underfunded courts are subject to political pressure and influence, and public trust in judicial institutions is low. Corruption in the judiciary remains a serious problem, and convictions of high-ranking judges for corruption and abuse of power are rare.

In 2016, parliament approved a variety of reforms designed to boost the independence and capacity of the judiciary, including the evaluation of current and prospective judges and prosecutors based on their professionalism, moral integrity, and independence. Vetting processes are ongoing, and in 2018 again led to the dismissal or resignation of many judges over unexplained assets.

F2.       Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2 / 4

Constitutional guarantees of due process are upheld inconsistently. Trial procedures can be affected by corruption within the judicial system, and are sometimes closed to the public. Legal counsel is not always provided to those that cannot afford their own.

F3.       Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4

Reports of police abuse of detainees continues. Prison inmates suffer from poor living conditions and a lack of adequate medical treatment.

Drug-related crime remains a problem, as Albania is a transit country for heroin smugglers and a key site for European cannabis production.

Traditional tribal law is practiced in parts of northern Albania, and sometimes involves revenge killings.

F4.       Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4

Roma face significant discrimination in education, health care, employment, and housing. A 2010 law bars discrimination based on race and several other categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and a 2013 reform of the criminal code introduced protections against hate crimes and hate speech based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, bias against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people remains strong in practice. Women are underrepresented in the workforce. Women living in rural areas, in particular, have fewer opportunities for employment and education than do men.

G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 9 / 16

G1.      Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3 / 4

Albanians generally enjoy freedom of movement, though criminal activity and practices related to traditional honor codes limit these rights in some areas. People are generally free to change their place of residence or employment.

G2.      Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

 Numerous property-restitution cases related to confiscations during the communist era remain unresolved. Illegal construction is a major problem, as is bribery linked to government approval of development projects.

G3.      Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

The government generally does not place explicit restrictions on social freedoms. Authorities in the past have indicating a willingness to recognize same-sex marriages, but no policy developments have followed.

Domestic violence is widespread, and while the parliament has adopted some measures to combat the problem in recent years, few cases are prosecuted. Police are poorly equipped to handle cases of domestic violence or spousal rape, which is often not understood to be a crime. A UN Women study found that 38 percent of women had been sexually harassed, or felt as risk of it, in public spaces in Albania, and many had not reported it to the police.

G4.      Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

Albania has relatively robust labor laws, but lacks the capacity to enforce workplace safety and other protections. Conditions in the manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors are often substandard and put workers at risk.

Albania continues to struggle with human trafficking. However, authorities are becoming more proactive in addressing the issue, according to the US State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, which noted an increased in funding for trafficking victims.