From: Stivi Canka
Comment: How Can We Improve the Quality of Elections in Albania?

Less than a week remains until the day the Albanian people head to the polls to elect their next leader. Intriguingly, despite the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, these elections have been as entertaining, if not more entertaining, than the previous ones.

Political gaffes, Freudian slips, ad hominem galore, infrastructure projects entering the final stages of construction, kids wearing party t-shirts without having no idea what that party represents, these elections have had everything. However, even though young people like me enjoy satirizing the Albanian political circus, the state of the Albanian elections continues to deteriorate. 

One of the most concerning things about the Albanian elections is the fact that less than 7 days remaining before the elections, and there are no political manifestos in circulation – if they do exist, I have been unable to find them available in a hard copy.

A manifesto is a published declaration of the policies that a political party intends to enact once it is in charge of the country. In every healthy democracy, the competing political parties publish their manifestos a few months before the elections take place so that the citizens will have the time to familiarize themselves with the promises that the parties are making. What is more, not only are manifestos an excellent way of presenting the general population with the policy proposals of different political entities, but manifestos can also be a very good way of keeping track of the success of the ruling party. 

There is no doubt that manifestos are crucial to the health of a democracy. However, perhaps not surprisingly, there is no political party in Albania that has published a manifesto as of today.

The closest thing to a manifesto that has been published is the priority list of the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI). With exception to LSI, there is no political party that has published anything that I believe is even remotely close to a manifesto. As a result, it is quite a challenging task to go to the internet and find policy proposals that the current political parties intend to implement once they are in power.

Instead, there is a plethora of. promises, with no concrete plans to back them up. That is simply appalling. We are living in a country that has been a democracy for three decades now, and we still do not know the platforms of the parties we are voting for. 

Sadly, the absence of political manifestos is only the tip of the iceberg. The Albanian elections are riddled with inherent flaws. That is the reason why it is about time that sweeping election reforms were introduced in our country. 

Publicizing Manifestos

One action that would improve the condition of the Albanian elections would be to make it obligatory for the political parties to publish manifestos two months before the elections. This way, people would not be as easily deceived as they are being deceived today.

For instance, both PD and PS have promised to significantly increase the wages for teachers and doctors, while, at the same time, they have also promised to decrease taxes. That is where the story ends, however.

No one is explaining how it is possible to increase wages while decreasing taxes. Obliging the political parties to publish manifestos would make it harder for them to make such promises. That is because they would have to explain in the manifesto the way they will make their promises materialize. There is no question that obliging the political parties to publicize manifestos would help Albania to shift from the politics of insults to the politics of issues. 

Holding Electoral Debates

Albanian is one of the few countries in Europe where the candidates who are running for office do not come face to face, and that tells a lot about our country. It goes to shows that the current ruling class is more about talk than it is about action.

However, it is about time that that narrative changed. Having electoral debates should become compulsory. If that were to be the case, it is axiomatic that the Albanian society would receive numerous benefits. For starters, political generalities and personal attacks are insufficient to carry a candidate through in-depth electoral debate, and that means that voters would be better informed because they would listen to an erudite discussion, instead of the constant scolding that they are currently fed.

What is more, political debates would also help to reduce political tensions, while also promoting accountability as well as transparency. 

Incentivizing Voters

Indeed, Albanian society does score low in plenty of economic, political, and social indicators, but it really knocks it out of the park when it comes to voter enrollment.

According to A2 CNN, in the previous local elections, only 22.9% of all eligible voters voted. Other sources put the figure at even lower.

That is a disturbingly low rate of participation. It does not take much effort to realize that the majority of Albanian voters lack the motivation to vote. That is why it is imperative for the government to find ways of incentivizing eligible voters, and especially young people, to head to the polling stations.

One alternative is to offer cash incentives to young voters. Research conducted by a political scientist by the name of Costas Panagopoulos has shown that an incentive of only $25 raised turnout in municipal elections by almost 5 percent. Voter lotteries are also an option. In the city of Philadelphia for instance, every voter becomes part of a $10’000 lottery just by exercising their right to vote. 

Albania is a country that is far from perfect, and it will take a lot of time and effort for it to catch up with the western world. However, that should not be an excuse for delaying election reforms. Improving the state of the Albanian elections has to be a top priority to the current and future Albanian governments. Even if it is not feasible to implement all of the above-mentioned proposals, something has to be done.

Big changes begin with incremental steps.