Freedom House: Albania in Danger of Authoritarianism

In its “Nations in Transit 2018” report, independent watchdog organization Freedom House sketches a grim image of Albania as a “stagnating” democracy, where in 2017 “every step forward was offset by another one backwards.”

Freedom House points to the political deadlock preceding the 2017 elections and the fact that the final political agreement between PS and PD imposed a “political logic over the legal stipulations of the electoral code.” As we have argued before, the McAllister+ agreement has undermined the rule of law in Albania.

The watchdog also mentions that any progress in the fight against cannabis plantation was obscured by “revelations that former Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri was connected to an Albanian-Italian drug trafficking network.” In spite of these revelations, PS-controlled Parliament blocked the arrest of the former minister and right-hand of Prime Minister Edi Rama, while the international community has remained remarkably mute about the matter.

Another issue brought up in the Freedom House report is the election of Ilir Meta as President, who is “perceived by many citizens to be a symbol of corruption,” a corruption openly attacked by Prime Minister Rama when he was still in the opposition.

Finally then, the report mentions that unconstitutional election of Temporary General Prosecutor Arta Marku “through a simple majority in the Albanian parliament […] seriously undermined the credibility and independence of the prosecution.” Again, this move by the government had been fiercely supported by both the US and EU mission in Tirana.

What is remarkable is that three out of the four negative developments mentioned in the executive summary, the international diplomats in Tirana had a decisive influence. The McAllister+ agreement was forced upon Albanian politics by heavy US and EU pressure; neither the EU nor US embassy have called for the arrest of Saimir Tahiri, even though they have repeated called for “big fish” to be captured, and both the EU and US embassies supported the election of Arta Marku. The Freedom House report is therefore as much an indictment of Rama’s government as of the foreign missions operating in Albania.

The outlook of Freedom House for 2018 is ambiguous, suggesting that although good things may come from the Rama government,

the complete control that Prime Minister Rama has over the Socialist Party and the solid majority he enjoys in parliament, combined with a tight control over the executive, could give rise to authoritarian tendencies that can bring other state institutions under the premier’s control.