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Albania's Outlook Unclear After Elections

By Brandon Dorman

The apparent outcome of the recent national elections in Albania in favor of the incumbent Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party will prove to have mixed results for that country's citizens. Politics in Albania is a very personal issue for most Albanians:political affiliations are strong, and elections can have a major impact on their day-to-day lives.

On the positive side, the continuation of Prime Minister Sali Bersisha's mandate will provide a great deal of much-needed internal stability to regional and local state institutions. The power structures in Albania are designed so that at least the director of virtually every public institution in the country is politically appointed, all the way down to the directors of schools and hospitals. Any changes in the ruling party at any level cause a great deal of disruption to these institutions as new, politically-appropriate, people are chosen to fill these positions. Unfortunately, many times these positions are left vacant for months until the decision is made, and the position is usually given as a form of patronage to a loyal supporter instead of to someone who knows how to run a school or a hospital. It takes time for these new appointees to learn how the institutions function and what their roles should be in them. And often, once the new director is chosen, he or she then replaces everyone working in that institution with friends and relatives, whether those people are viable candidates for the jobs they receive or not. Thus the victory of the Democratic Party in the national elections should help keep to a minimum the disruption to important services as a result of the political process.

On the other hand, Albania's most serious internal problem is perhaps that of corruption. There is virtually no interaction that takes place between citizen and state that does not involve some form of corruption. Students from elementary schools to universities often must pay teachers for grades, doctors in state hospital emergency rooms must be bribed before they will provide treatment, and drivers often must pay their way through roadside police checks. Stability in the administration of state institutions comes with the price that the state employees who perhaps took some time to find the best way to use their positions for personal gain will be able to continue those practices for the foreseeable future.

Albania is a country that is still learning what it means to be democratic and open. While the impact of the elections of late June on the lives of ordinary Albanians will be mixed, the elections are another small step toward political maturity and the dream of eventually joining Europe.

Brandon Dorman served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gramsh, Albania from March 2006 to August 2008 and is currently studying as a masters candidate with Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

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