Analysis: Calls for unity grow as divided DP faces hard future 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 4, 2023 23:10

Analysis: Calls for unity grow as divided DP faces hard future 

Story Highlights

  • In the divide and conquer approach, ruling SP delights in an easy dominant role as the main Albanian opposition party shatters in three, as smallest faction holds official mantle, but little voter support 

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TIRANA, Sept. 4, 2023 - As Albania’s parliament convenes after summer vacation, the main opposition Democratic Party has shattered into three different factions, with the faction with a smaller voter and MP support being given the official mantle by the courts and state authorities. 

The faction that the state authorities and ruling Socialist Party recognize as the official DP placed former party leader and three-time election loser Lulzim Basha back at the helm this week, a move criticized by the majority of the MPs the opposition had elected in the last general elections. 

Angering most of the opposition MPs, Basha has also been recognized by the Socialist Speaker of Parliament as head of the DP parliamentary group, even though the number of DP MPs loyal to him is a small fraction of the group.   

Basha had resigned as leader last year following a humiliating defeat in local mayoral by-elections, in which his faction clearly had a much smaller support than that of former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who has been elected DP leader through a parallel process that has not been recognized by Albanian courts, although election results and polls show Berisha clearly has more support than Basha among party voters. 

A further third faction has appeared this week calling for party unity, led by PMs like Gazmend Bardhi, who has invited the other two factions at the discussion table to come up with a unity formula. 

Berisha and his Re-establishment movement said they would join Bardhi’s reconciliation meeting but Basha’s faction has refused. "Yes, we will participate. We will go there and we will participate. We also consider the invitation a positive step," Berisha told reporters this week.

Although the opposition has been competitive in elections and garnered sizable amounts of votes, it has been unable to win them, leading to the Socialist Party maintaining firm control of governance even though its rule has been plagued by several corruption scandals. 

Opinion polls show neither Berisha nor Basha would be able to win a general election so opposition supporters are discussing ways to make DP relevant again.  

DP has seen years of internal turmoil following the loss of the April 25, 2021 general elections for an unprecedented third time. Shortly after the elections, the U.S. State Department publicly designated Berisha, who had not held public office since 2013, as involved in "high-level corruption” and thus banned from entering the United States, what’s commonly referred to in Albania as “non-grata.” Berisha said the designation is the result of false information and lobbying by the Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama. 

Basha expelled Berisha from the DP parliamentary group based on the U.S. designation. The decision led to Berisha launching a comeback movement within the ranks of the Democrats against Basha. The party has remained shattered ever since. 

The deeply divided opposition has delighted the ruling Socialist Party, as it now has a completely dominant role in Albanian politics, governing with few checks from a weak opposition. 

In the last mayoral elections this summer, SP swept through victory in almost all municipalities, an indication it can win the general elections in two years time with an absolute majority, heading into a second decade of power. 

Political commentators note that a strong and competitive opposition is vital for Albania’s democracy, but if DP continues to stay divided, it can no longer fill that role. 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 4, 2023 23:10