OP-ED/Changes of leadership in the Democratic Party?

OP-ED/Changes of leadership in the Democratic Party?

This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al

By  Eduard Zaloshnja

The analysis of the Albanian politics in the past 27 years has mainly relied on the paradigm of the confrontation between the left wing and right wing. The source of this paradigm is not ideological, but historical.

If we read the first political program of the Democratic Party, we will notice several left wing ideological elements (“distribution of land for those who work it” is the best example for this). However, the DP was considered to be a right wing political party due to the fact that it fought the Communist Party, which had been ruling the country for 50 years, and it was massively supported by former political dissidents and former land owners whose lands were taken by the state.

When the Democratic Party came to power for the first time, not only it received a strong support by the categories mentioned above, but it also nominated people from these categories in key positions. Meanwhile, hundreds of others belonging to these two categories, were employed in the public service.

As the history of electoral results suggests, the support of former political dissidents for the DP remained strong until 2009. In the 2009 elections, the DP and other right wing small parties obtained around 740 thousand votes. This was the highest result obtained by the right wing coalition since 1992 (the 1996 and 1997 elections are exempted from this comparison, because they were not considered as normal elections).

The drop of support for the DP and the possible cause for this

Starting from 2013, the right wing coalition registered a decline which continues even today. In last year’s elections, this coalition only managed to obtain 460 thousand votes. Meanwhile, the average number of votes for the right wing coalition in 2018 (suggested by the monthly surveys that I’ve been holding) is around 500 thousand votes.

But, has this decline in votes occurred as a result of the lack of support of the DP by the families of former political dissidents?

A survey that I conducted three years ago for the right wing German foundation Konrad Adenauer, suggested that 30% of Albanian voters living in Albania came from families who were persecuted during the communist regime for political reasons or lands (a quarter of them came from families who had initially had good relations with the communist regime, but were later persecuted by it). By extrapolating the percentage above, it can be said that around 650 thousand voters living in Albania belonged to this category (it’s hard to know how many others live abroad).

How many of these voters living in Albania voted for right wing parties in 2013?

The survey mentioned above suggested that half of them, around 330 thousand, voted for these parties in the elections held five years ago. Around 120 thousand voted for the left wing coalition, while 200 thousand did not vote (see table 1).

Table 1. How did voters coming from families of former political dissidents (living in Albania) vote in the 2013 elections?

Right          330,000
Left          120,000
Did not vote          200,000
Former dissident voters          650,000

The 200 thousand former dissidents who did not vote in 2013 could be considered as the ones who were disappointed by the parties claiming to belong to the right.

In theory, this number of voters could have made a real change for the DP in last year’s elections. But, the result of these elections, especially in urban areas (where the majority of former dissidents live), indicated that there was a strong correlation between the drop of the rate of voters’ turnout and the decline in the number of votes in favor of the DP compared to the previous elections. This suggests that the 200 thousand former dissidents, who did not vote for the right wing five years ago, could have been joined by many others (maybe they are 300 thousand now).

In order for the DP to be a worthy contender for power, it needs to convince these hundreds of thousands former voters, who used to vote for this party, to come back to the ballot boxes. And an apology by Lulzim Basha is not enough for this.

This could be possible if public figures coming from families of former political dissidents are given key leading positions within the DP. Some of them were left outside the parliamentary candidate lists by Basha. This group included figures such as Jozefina Topalli, Astrit Patozi, Mark Marku, Tomorr Alizoti, Agron Gjekmarkaj, Kreshnik Alimerko, Astrit Bushati, etc.

Jozefina Topalli head of DP?

One of the most prominent figures that Basha has ousted is Jozefina Topalli. Being number 2 of the Democratic Party from 1997 until 2013, she was seen as Berisha’s successor as party leader. Born in a prominent family from Shkodra (persecuted by communists), not accused of corruption (she has only obtained the lands belonging to her family, without abusing with taxpayers’ money); being consistent in her political positions (she voted against Theodhori Sollaku when DP and SP elected him as Attorney General) and enjoying enormous support among right wing voters, she could be the most suitable candidate to replace Berisha in 2013.

But, Berisha decided to support Basha, something which he must regret today.

However, he’s still in time to make up for the mistake that he made 5 years ago. Given that he’s very popular within the right wing electorate (in my latest survey on political figures, Berisha scored 13 points more than Basha), he (and he alone) is able to cause a storm within the DP, which could see Basha and his people leave the party, leading the way for the arrival of Jozefina Topalli and other figures supporting her, in the party’s leadership.

Such move may also act as a magnet to lure in intellectuals who are not happy with the current situation, as they did at the beginning of 1990s. This way, this party could once again enjoy the support of former political dissidents, former land owners, intellectuals and the youth. This would also take the number of votes for the right wing coalition back to 740 thousand.

If Berisha does not cause a storm within the DP, Basha will remain the party’s leader unless some scandal across the ocean breaks out. Meanwhile, the DP will continue to be voted by around 500 thousand people.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy