From: Bledar Qalliu
Formal Opposition Leader Downplays Defeat in Albanian By-elections

Lulzim Basha, the formal leader of the opposition Democratic Party (PD) has downplayed the group’s crushing defeat in the Sunday by-elections, while blaming the winners for the PD’s loss.

“I have never lost a race in my life but I have been facing electoral massacres,” Basha told a journalist who pointed out that this was the party’s sixth consecutive electoral defeat under his leadership.

The ruling Socialist Party (PS) won in Diber, Durres, Lushnje and Rrogozhine, while Shkoder went to the House of Freedom (SHL) coalition – the opposition group led by former PD leader Sali Berisha. Basha’s formal PD came last in five constituencies but was able to overcome Berisha’s initiative in Rrogozhine, the second-smallest constituency at stake. 

Electoral turnout was only 30 percent. Mayors are expected to stay in office for roughly 16 months as the next local elections are scheduled for June 2023.

Here are preliminary results (in percentage) in all six municipalities:

  • Diber: PS 61, SHL 19, PD 19
  • Durres: PS 58, SHL 30, PD 12
  • Lushnje: PS 59, SHL 31, PD 10, 
  • Rrogozhine: PS 61, PD 22, SHL 17
  • Shkoder: SHL 44, PS 40, PD 17
  • Vore: PS 69, SHL 24, PD 6

Basha led the opposition to boycott the local elections of 2019, resulting in a landslide victory for the ruling Socialist Party in all 61 municipalities across the country. 

Basha opted to participated in this Sunday’s local by-elections, which ended in his crushing defeat.

“It’s clear to me, and there is no citizen who doesn’t know that the March 6 process was an anomaly of an anomaly. The first anomaly was the single-party elections of  June 30, 2019. The second anomaly was that four of the mayors coming out of single-party elections were proven to have criminal records, one of them passed away, and the other decided to rerun,” Basha told journalists on Monday.

The formal leader of the main opposition party made it clear that he doesn’t plan to resign after the loss. Asked whether the party leadership will bear any responsibility, Basha blamed the loss on the winners: the ruling party and the rival opposition group.

“Now it’s not the time to run away from accountability but it’s also not the time to pretend that we live on another planet. We live in Albania, where elections were annihilated on 25 April [2021]. Under these conditions, and during an internal crisis, the PD has been under multiple attacks,” he stated.

Basha also blamed the defeat on the low turnout, which he explained was the result of the lack of government guarantees for free and fair elections. He stressed that his party needs to undergo “deep reflection” and “detach itself from those parts of its past that are problematic.”

Detachment from the “problematic past” means further detachment of Basha’s group from Sali Berisha, whom he has excluded from all party organs after the United States designated Berisha over corruption.

Berisha then launched an initiative to topple Basha by calling a meeting of the PD national assembly, the party’s highest decision-making body. The assembly voted to dismiss all party leadership.

Basha and his supporters do not recognize the decision and have been able to keep the party headquarters to date, despite what seemed to be an overwhelming support by party members for Berisha’s initiative.

These by-elections were widely seen as a battle between the two for the PD leadership, which Basha clearly lost, as predicted by a number of surveys.

Berisha has so far resisted calls to create a new party. Most analysts believe that the charismatic leader who led the PD for most of the three decades since its inception in 1990 would never take such a step but would instead fight to topple Basha at all costs. It’s unclear what the next moves for his initiative may be but the by-election results will surely be followed by a new battle for the PD leadership.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, the highly contested winner of all Albanian elections since 2013, was more concerned with international matters today. He downplayed his Socialist Party’s victory, and reminded Albanians that his government’s current priority is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine: “We must overcome this too. United, not divided,” he wrote.