Rama Assumed Greater Personal Political Power amidst Pandemic, FES’s Report Shows

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama has assumed greater personal political power amidst the coronavirus crisis, a report by Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) has found.

The report describes Rama’s overwhelming role during the crisis:

“The crisis has provided Prime Minister Rama with the opportunity to personally assume a greater political and institutional role. The Prime Minister has been the communicator-in-chief, personally announcing every decision taken, starting from details on the lockdown hours, to the justification of every decision including urging people to “not go out, to take care of their family, and to remember to wash their hands”. On several occasions he has appeared on TV replying to and giving explanations to citizens who have sent messages on Facebook.

Through his daily appearances on TV and social media the Prime Minister communicated the measures or decisions even before they were formally enacted.

The underlying communication narrative of the prime minister has been that Albania is at “war” with an “invisible enemy” that can be beaten only through “sacrifices” we make in peace.“

The report is titled “Democracy and the State of Emergency – Responses to the Corona Crisis in the Western Balkans, Croatia and Slovenia”.

It sets out to monitor effects of the corona crisis management on institutions, political and civil rights, parties, civil society, as well as external factors.

The report on the Western Balkans has found that Albanian and Serbian executive leaders in particular are seizing a great deal of authority with scant resistance. The curtailing of civil and political rights at this level is unprecedented in peacetime, according to the report, and the accumulation of power by the executive has weakened the role of the parliament in these countries.

FES notes that although Albania was the first country in the region to impose lockdown measures on March 11, only two weeks before that the government considered suggestion for such measures as attempts to spread panic. “Two weeks later, on 11 March, the position of the Albanian authorities was completely changed.”

The inconsistency of Rama, frequent changes in lockdown measures without prior warning or justification were also underlined in the report.

“Besides the inconsistent nature of the adoption process of the measures, the proportionality of the measures must be stressed, given that these measures are highly restrictive even when compared to the measures taken in neighbouring countries afflicted seriously by the pandemic.”

The centralization of information made the media to report “based on pre-prepared footage by PR staff at the ministries.”

In Rama’s footsteps, mayors also have tried to take their share in personalizing power. “The opportunity to show personality politics has also been seized by mayors who appear daily on the media handing food packages to people, although this is hardly what people expect mayors to do,” the report noted.

FES will publish e second report on democracy and the state of emergency in the Western Balkans in May.