Elections in a captured state

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 5, 2021 19:21

Elections in a captured state

By Veton Surroi

Is Albania a captured state? Why? Is it alone, or a mere part of a group of other captured Western Balkan states? Those are the questions I looked at in the report issued by Transparency International through the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) in Tirana. They recently presented the report with the self-explanatory title: "Deconstructing State Capture in Albania".

Time is required to reason and explain the transition from public discourse to analysis. So, something that has been spoken about in the Western Balkans for a decade or more and which came into the focus of the European Union in 2016 through the analysis of progress reports -- now arrives, five years later, as an analysis of "deconstructing state capture.”

The analysis, done using serious research methodologies, tells the simple story that is part of the general discourse in Albania: A businessman has at his service the Government and the courts and ultimately the Parliament, and puts all these to work to justify his corrupt relationship with these powers. The Businessman, with a capital B, can be one of a number of oligarchs, whose names are known to almost every citizen of the country.

In recent years, the category of Businessman has been enlarged with new names -- with more and more of these coming from the category of people who move from organized crime (drugs, weapons, prostitution) into legitimate businesses. But, the relationship remains unchanged: There is the Businessman on the one hand and the Government, the Judiciary and the Parliament who bypass their duty of protecting the interest of the public to protect the interest of the State Capturing Businessman. Unchanged, then, remains the culture of the captured state. This has not been changed by the rotation of power, on the contrary, it has justified it in its "normalcy." The capture of the state is becoming implicit no matter which political force is in power.

That’s the state in which Albania approaches the elections, taking it for granted that it is not a race for the capture of the state and also with the implication that the basic culture of capturing the state will continue regardless of who wins the elections.

Based on this early assessment -- that this is not a race to end state capture -- there are two objective vectors that can help to understand the direction parties are taking in the race. The first is that the election is taking place at a time of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all its social and economic repercussions (and the aftermath of the earthquakes that struck the country in 2019). The second is that the elections are taking place after two full terms of governance by the Socialist Party.

In the given context, the Socialist Party should have a hard time. During its rule, the culture of state capture grew further with more and more money, even more and more money from crime. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the healthcare system demanded more and more attention. But the pandemic also paralyzed the economy of the entire world, in Albania being particularly punishing for the tourism and the ability of migrants to work abroad. Albania’s north, central and southern regions have all been hit in their own way, whether in tourism or in the inability of seasonal workers to go to Italy and Greece. If we take elections elsewhere as an example, the COVID-19 pandemic factor in the United States was far more important in the loss by President Trump than his unpresidential behavior.

And, at the end of two mandates in power, it is normal for the country to see fatigue with its rulers and all that time in power has been enough for every citizen of Albania to see the good and the bad that the Socialist Party  brings. Campaign promises for a third term can be easily verified based on the performance of the party in the previous two terms in power.

The vectors work against the Socialist Party and in that context there would be no reason for the SP to win the election. Consequently, all analyses should lead to the conclusion that the current opposition should win these elections. But, outside the statements in the tone of the campaign, it is not the case that that result is inevitabile as it has been in past previous transfers of power.

In fact, the SP is using its disadvantages in an attempt to turn them into advantages. The main message that the SP is projecting to deal with state capture is relativization. It goes like this: Yes, in Albania during the two mandates the oligarchs ruled, and, yes, there was also organized crime, but that has also been the case in the past, when the SP was in opposition.

The SP is trying to turn the earthquake and the homes it destroyed into a campaign advantage, with rebuilt houses donated by the government to the stricken citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic is being used with an even more simplified message, with a mass vaccination drive that in the election campaign translates into "one vaccine, one vote." The emergency hospital, donated by Turkey, will be opened before the election date in Fier, the county where SP hopes to score the votes that will get it past the line in the race for MP numbers.
Under these conditions, the opposition’s  biggest ally is voters having had enough of the  current government.

The race has already led to a degradation of the campaign language used, especially by the ruling party. I believe this is a decision made after sober analysis, not one that comes as an emotional outburst. The analysis has shown that the SP has nothing in store to convince the citizens of Albania that it will act better than it has done so far. And what the government has done so far is not enough for the citizens of Albania. It is now up to the opposition parties to convince their fellow citizens that they will be better than the Socialist government, and perhaps even better than they were when these parties themselves were in power.

Here the opposition has an advantage: a large number of voters, however young, whose political memory does not go beyond one or two election cycles.

In the captured state of Albania, therefore, an important part of the campaign is aimed at showing how bad they, the others, were.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 5, 2021 19:21