Why the Low Turnout
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published June 28, 2017
Albanians have their new parliament as the general elections were held in their country on 25 June 2017 which were first scheduled for 18 June, but after a possible boycott by the Democratic Party - led coalition during a harsh political crisis the ruling Socialist Party (SP) and the Democratic Party (DP) agreed to change the date on 18 May. Nearly complete election results showed on Tuesday that Albania's left-wing Socialist Party has secured a second mandate in a general election seen as a key benchmark to the country's bid to launch membership negotiations with the European Union.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) said on June 27 that with more than 96 percent of the ballots counted the governing Socialists of Prime Minister Edi Rama had won about 48 percent of the votes, or 74 places in the 140-seat parliament. The opposition Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha has won 29 percent, or 43 seats, while the Socialist Movement for Integration has got 19 percent, or 19 seats. PDIU won 3 mandates, while PSD 1 mandate.
The previous parliamentary elections were held on 23 June 2013 and resulted in a victory for the Socialist Party of Albania-led Alliance for a European Albania, which received 57.6 percent of the vote, winning 83 of the 140 seats. The opposition Alliance for Employment, Prosperity and Integration headed by Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party received almost 39.5 percent of the vote and won the other 57 seats. The Socialist Party led by Edi Rama formed the government with the latter as Prime Minister.
The 140 members of Parliament were elected in twelve multi-member constituencies based on the twelve counties using closed list proportional representation with an electoral threshold of 3 percent for parties and 5 percent for alliances. Seats were allocated to alliances using the D'Hondt method, then to political parties using the Sainte-Lague method. Demographic changes led to some changes in the number of seats for some constituencies; Tirana gained two seats and Durres one, while Korca, Berat and Kukes all lost a seat.
Dropping turnout trend...
Voter turnout in Sunday's election fell to 46.6 percent, 7 points lower than in 2013, according to Tuesday's preliminary data of the CEC. It was evident, of course given the so far results, that only in two or three constituencies the vote participation rate passed the 50- percent limit.
Participation figure was 53.5 percent four years ago.
Certainly, high voter turnout was considered to be desirable for all the political forces and an intensive campaign was made until last Friday before the start of the electoral silence on Saturday by all the leaders. As it occurs in other democratic countries in Albania, too, a high turnout is generally seen as evidence of the legitimacy of the current system. Assuming that low turnout - half of the 2.9m population - is a reflection of disenchantment or indifference; a poll with very low turnout may not be an accurate reflection of the will of the people. On the other hand, if low turnout is a reflection of contentment of voters about likely winners or parties, then low turnout is as legitimate as high turnout, as long as the right to vote exists.
Still, low turnouts can lead to unequal representation among various parts of the population in Albania. In developed countries, non-voters tend to be concentrated in particular demographic and socioeconomic groups, especially the young and the poor.
'Age of democracy' and electoral turnout
But which are some of the causes having been proposed for the decline in voting in Albania? Some analysts insist that the so called 'age of a democracy' is an important factor. Albania held its first democratic elections on March 31, 1991. Since 1923, they were the first multi-party elections when the communist regime allowed the establishment of pluralism in this Balkan country that was ruled by one party - the Party of Labor of Albania, becoming the most rigid communist regime in Europe after the 60s.
These elections were followed by seven consecutive general polls (1992, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013), but there has always been irregularities and contested results some of which have turned violent. Although relevant international organizations and especially OSCE/ODIHR did never get 'tired' of making recommendations to improve the standards of elections, the 27 years since the first pluralist elections have not been sufficient time that this Balkan country, a NATO member and EU candidate aspirant, could achieve the 'age of democracy', meaning considerable involvement of the population. It apparently takes some time to develop the cultural habit of voting, and the associated understanding of and confidence in the electoral process, studies show.
In politics, 'voter fatigue' is the apathy that the electorate can experience under certain circumstances, and in the case of Albania one of which could be the ongoing harsh political fight among the political forces. Even in the 2017 elections the political fight, although not at the levels of the previous elections, was harsh, and the strategy was characterized by its political campaigning with feverish attempts to change likely voting behavior by changing the opinions of potential voters through different forms.
International observers who monitored the Albanian poll hailed the generally calm campaign and voting, but also noted the continued political fight that had negative impacts on the country's democracy.
The US embassy in Tirana said the incidents "were not so widespread as to change the overall outcome of the elections". But it pointed out that International observers witnessed incidents of vote buying, photographing of ballots, and intimidation of voters.
"Elections officials and law enforcement responded to many of these complaints resulting in some arrests," said the US Embassy.
Federica Mogherini, EU's foreign policy chief, and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn urged the new Cabinet to continue the reform process.
"The continuation of the justice reform and the fight against drug trafficking and cultivation will be of particular importance in this respect," their statement underlined.
Dropping turnout but not high in SP militant ranks
Although economy seemed to top Albanians' concerns ahead of the upcoming June 25 general elections, an issue which became the highlight of the electoral campaign of the Democratic Party, the results show that the majority of those who cast their ballots wanted a continuation of the SP rule regardless of the fact that much evidence was provided that the 2013 pledges of its head Mr. Rama were not kept.
The economic card played by the DP and other opposition parties on not upheld promises like employment, free of charge health care, low taxes and prices, better education system etc. did not affect the support of Socialist militants for their political force.
In this case it should be evidenced the fact that the Socialist supporters are much more organized and dedicated to their traditional political force, and facts have shown that both their participation in voting and support for SP have been unchanged.
The opposite has apparently happened with the Democratic Party. According to many analysts and data released in the strongholds of this party, especially in northern Albania, there has been displeasure with the lists compiled by the DP leader, Lulzim Basha who left out of them some veteran founders of that party like Jozefina Topalli, Astrit Patozi, Ridvan Bode, Genc Ruli etc.
Although not official, figures claim that almost half of Democrat militants did not cast their votes in some northern constituencies like Shkodra for example. During the campaign, Basha said that if the Democrats lost the election, the party would have a chance to vote for a new leader.
But the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) which, according to the so- far data, has won 19 seats in parliament has shown that it has a solid and dedicated electorate although it should be taken into account the fact that this is a new party formed on 6 September 2004 when Ilir Meta, former Prime Minister of Albania, broke from the Socialist Party of Albania.
SMI's number of seats in parliament has kept rising and is distinguished for its moderating role on the Albanian political scene. Used to be called 'the kingmaker' it remains to be seen its trend during the next four years when its relations with the former ally, SP, have dropped at the lowest levels.
Albanian population aging and low turnout
Studies have found that demographics also have an effect. Old people tend to vote more than youths, so societies like Albania where the average age is somewhat higher because a great number of youths have emigrated, a trend which is continuing to rise at high rates, are being affected by this phenomenon. Although there are no official figures Albania, which was considered as one of the youngest countries in Europe until a few years ago, is getting older inside its state borders.
For example I can say out of my experience that at the time when my family voted on June 25 this year most of the people waiting in line to cast their ballots were mid- or old- aged. Few young people could be seen around.
But one of the key elements which is becoming more and more serious is voter fatigue accompanied with the apathy that the electorate is experiencing under the new circumstances in many aspects but on top of all in the ones of the economy and employment.
In the meantime it should be taken into consideration the fact that there is a growing trend of the dropping confidence of the people in the impact that their vote plays on the general situation of Albania. "My vote changes nothing; I do not see any value of my votes!" This is what I have personally heard from many people on many occasions during this electoral campaign, and they belong to different walks of life. This leads to a rising feeling that the confidence in the political class in Albania keeps falling, and many do not see any change if they vote or not.
Also, much is spoken of a negative effect of the pre- electoral deal between Rama and Basha with the latter making some unilateral decisions, which have been considered as 'betrayal' of the cause of the traditional right- wing forces.
The drift of the electoral campaign against the Socialist Movement for Integration by Basha after rumors became very frequent of a post - electoral deal between the two largest political forces (SP and DP) is also seen as a discouragement of the Democrat veterans to back their new leader, who replaced the veteran founder, Sali Berisha.
And it is ironic, in a way, because it was SMI and its leadership, especially the President- elect, Ilir Meta, that made possible the end of the parliamentary boycott of the DP and its participation in the elections. It is apparent that when Basha turned course - focusing again on his main opponent Premier Edi Rama, it was too late.
As a preliminary conclusion it can be said that the current parliament composition is a result of the vote of the traditional supporters of the three major political forces.
But it is evident the loyalty of the Socialist Party militant rank- and- file to its leadership and will to keep their political force in power for a second term. It is early to speak of post- electoral coalition, but in any case the SP's victory remains something that has found unprepared the majority of analysts with its result. Anyway, the current number of seats in the 140- member legislative does not allow it to have the required votes for some crucial decisions needing 84 votes.