From: Bledar Qalliu
Comment: Ruling Party Proposes 67 Presidential Candidates, Calls for More from Opposition

The ruling Socialist Party of Albania announced that its 74 members of parliament have proposed 67 presidential candidates, and called on the opposition to join their “transparent and inclusive” campaign for more proposals.

Prime Minister Edi Rama has enough votes to elect the new president with a simple majority of 71 MPs in the fourth or fifth round. However, he has assigned his party’s chief whip Taulant Balla and MPs Damian Gjiknuri and Elisa Spiropali to lead a campaign to attract proposals more broadly: MPs, civil society organizations, and even the public.

As a result, Balla announced on Monday that besides their own 67 presidential candidates, the team has also received 200 emails from the public with an undisclosed number of additional presidential candidates. Balla praised the transparency and inclusiveness of the process he leads, ironically noting that the names of the candidates won’t be revealed at this stage.

He also lauded his team’s decision to accept an opposition proposal to postpone the process by one week, while taking the opportunity to stress that his party really hopes for a consensual president that would also receive the opposition’s support.

Finally, following a meeting he headed with members of the civil society on Wednesday, Balla announced their proposal was for a woman to be elected president, based on the argument that “time is ripe for Albania to have a woman president.”

The Albanian prime minister is not known for striving for consensus but throughout his political career he has shown impressive ability to create the public appearance of openness in negotiations.

The latest case in point was an agreement with the extra-parliamentary opposition of Lulzim Basha in 2020 on electoral reform, which Rama violated immediately after it was signed by unilaterally changing election laws in parliament.

Back then he didn’t need the opposition’s votes, as they had left the parliament, but he needed to appear to the public and foreign diplomats as a negotiator who extends his benevolent hand to include minorities, only to do whatever he wants in the end.

Now he also doesn’t need anyone’s votes in parliament, as he can easily elect the president with 71 votes after the first three attempts that require a three fourth majority of 84 votes.

However, Rama could always use the public illusion of being inclusive, the mirage that he is working in close collaboration with the opposition and civil society to elect the new president, while at the same time being in full control of the process and risking nothing in return. 

So he opens calls for proposals; dozens, hundreds of proposals, from every stakeholder. This is despite the fact that neither civil society, nor the public has the right to propose a presidential candidate in Albania. Only groups of at least 20 MPs can do so, according to the constitution, which means that the dozens of names proposed so far are meaningless beyond the propaganda attached to them, as a maximum of seven candidates can be proposed by the 140 MPs in parliament.

Rama used a similar strategy recently, carrying out a so-called “national consultation”, a process he claimed to be “inclusive and transparent”.

Unsurprisingly, by the end of it, Rama announced he had secured public support for controversial policies he had arguably already decided on, including government-controlled cultivation of cannabis throughout the country, and a possible government-led money-laundering scheme to allow for money deposits in Albanian banks by “Albanian migrants” worldwide.

Given Rama’s comfortable majority of 74 MPs, his legacy with negotiations and agreements, and an opposition still in disarray, it is only reasonable for the prime minister to have already decided who he will appoint as Albania’s president for the next five years.

The ongoing meetings, consultations, negotiations, emails and phone calls with hundreds of names proposed, which have started this week and are expected to last throughout next month, will only serve the ruling party’s strategy to keep the public attention on a process it fully controls and away from discomforting matters of public interest.