Albanian Elections: Promises of Change, Really?

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It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Campaign. Much like the 1963 epic American comedy, the runoff to Albania's June 23 national elections has brought together a cast of old and new characters from Albania's ongoing democratic evolution. They are scrambling from one end of this tiny country to another like Keystone Cops. They all promise EU membership, an end to corruption, and to do away with unemployment (an estimated 28 percent of youth is unemployed). Most recently the ruling party has upped the ante by promising free visas to the U.S.

The cast is led by the aging Sali Berisha, a self-appointed guardian of democracy, current Prime Minister, and the leader of the ruling Democratic Party. His challenger is young Edi Rama, Chairman of the Socialist Party, former Mayor of Tirana, and one who prefers steak tartare in a country where well done is the norm. Both leaders claim a vote for their party will lead to change in the country. Berisha's slogan is "We Are Change and We Are Moving Forward". Rama has countered with the slogan "2013: The Year of Change", as in "let's get rid of Berisha", and for good measure he has flung the notion of "Rebirth" in the slogan.

In the wings there is the nationalists Red and Black Party, which was doing surprisingly well in the polls until its leader demanded $100,000 from party members to have their names placed on the ballot. Party members fled the movement and so with it collapsed Greater Albania. Then there is the newly created New Wind/Fresh New Democratic Party led by Bamir Topi, former President of the country. A relative unknown, Berisha handpicked and propelled Topi to the Presidency. Topi took a position against Berisha and soon found himself out of a job. Topi has taken his revenge against Berisha on the campaign trail where he hopes his Fresh Party will unseat the old man. Fresh may get a few seats in parliament but doubtful enough to rouse the winds of change.

The key player is Ilir Meta, the Janus head of the Socialist Movement for Integration, a splinter party that broke ranks with the Socialist Party in 2004. With a steady 5% of the popular vote, Meta has taken the role of king maker. Since 2009 he has shared a bed with Berisha. Meta served as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Berisha's government. He was caught on video tape by one of his own party members demanding kickbacks for a state tender. Berisha quickly came to his rescue. Against the testimony of independent criminal experts and the cry for justice by both European and US diplomats, Berisha and his courts determined the tapes were altered and had the case thrown out of court. Meta walked away with pockets lined of money and into the arms of Edi Rama. No surprise his party's slogan is "Walk Faster". It's doubtful Rama will be able to keep pace with him, as some insiders believe Meta has already begun a dastardly plan to steal the Socialist Party away from Rama and become Prime Minister.

With a seven point lead in the most recent polls, Rama's Socialists are expected to win the elections. But Albanian political campaigning does not begin or end with the elections. They are an all season sport. Losers never quit complaining and the winners never quit boasting. Promises made during the elections are quickly forgotten and a finger pointing policy is quickly adopted. For more than twenty years each party has promised to change the country but not one party is willing to change. And the only kind of change the public would like to see is less cash in their leaders' offshore bank accounts and more change, as in cash, in their own pockets or... a free visa to the U.S. Oy vey!

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