On June 21st 2015, Albanians will go to vote for local elections. The last local elections were held four years ago and the election results showed a huge will for change in many municipalities. On the other hand, two years have passed since the 2013 general elections and the forthcoming local elections will find the ruling majority in the middle of its four-year mandate. The analyses of the first 300 days of governance — a time lapse representing the milestone set by the Government to show its successful reforms — are now almost forgotten. The fever and pressure of the coming local elections, considered as an important test for the Government’s work, are widely spread in the air.
Local elections in Albania are as important as general elections. As stated in the aministrative law that entered into force in July 2000, Albania has 12 districts, 65 municipalities and 308 communes. Two sets of local government units were created: those with less than 5,000 inhabitants, representing only 13% of the population, and local government units with more than 20,000 inhabitants, which represented 45% of the population. In principle, around 62% of the local officials were elected through direct voting and 38% through a proportional voting system. This great fragmentation of the territory has contributed to create an inefficient system, worsened by the lack of tools to keep up with demographic transformations. The legitimacy of the citizens’ democratic representation at the local level has been called into question as well, since the democratic principles necessary to achieve fair and equal level of representation in the local structures of governance have been quite difficult to apply. Such inefficiency was visible in many activities: from collecting local taxes to implementing projects and being able to receive financial aid for investments, or simply providing access to services for the citizens.
The Territorial Administrative Reform
The most needed and important reform undertaken by the Government, the Territorial Administrative Reform (TAR), is currently being implemented. In my view, this would be one of the biggest achievements of the last decades for the development of local administration in Albania. It introduces a general reorganizing and new division of the territory. Five proposals for the new administrative division were prepared and discussed, based on the technical criteria approved by an ad-hoc Committee at the Parliament. In May 2014 one of the proposals was voted, but only in April 2015 the Assembly approved the amendments to the law for the functioning of local entities. This opened the way to a series of consultations and changes, which are affecting the administrative structure and the territorial divisions.
In October 2014 the European Commission positively highlighted the progress in the implementation of the territorial reform. As stated in the Progress Report, when analyzing the situation in Albania on the basis of the political and economic criteria for EU membership, such evolutions represent “fundamental achievements to move forward the administrative-territorial reform”.
One month ahead of the official launch of the electoral campaign, media coverage and newspaper headlines help a lot to create support for possible candidates who have been bumped into the challenge and often withdrawn immediately afterwards. In many conversations and public debates it looks like the pieces of the cake have already been distributed around the party table, referring to potential candidates as incumbent Mayors, without even mentioning or considering the views of many simple people, whose votes still need to be counted. Political parties and leaders are negotiating free zones with their new or old allies and ambitious coalitions are emerging.
On the other hand, citizens’ eyes are turned towards potential fresh candidates with no previous experience in political engagement, failures or corruption cases; but still, the voters list contains several hundreds of thousands of voters more than the actual number of citizens living in the country and unfortunately, as it happens in these cases, it is the large group of non-voters that show the real crisis of the political system in place.