The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy, where most executive powers are vested in the office of Prime Minister and the Government, which are elected by the parliament. The Albanian parliament is made up of 140 members (MP) elected for a four-year term through a closed-list proportional representation system. The President of the Republic is the Head of the State and represents, according to the Constitution, the ‘unity of the people’. He is elected by the parliament for a five-year term. The nominee must be an Albanian citizen of at least 40 years of age and should have resided in the country in the last 10 years. Although the president is considered the Head of the State, the office holds few executive powers and is considered mainly ceremonial. 

The current Albanian President, Bajram Begaj was elected president in June 2022, he was elected in the fourth with 78 votes in favor, 4 against and one abstain in the 140-seat assembly. The 55-year-old former Chief of Staff of the Albanian military is a graduate of Tirana’s Faculty of Medicine and 31-year veteran of the army and an associate professor of medicine. He replaced Ilir Meta as president, a career politician who has since then returned to active politics as the leader of the opposition Liberty Party. 

From 1945 to 1991, under the regime of former dictator Enver Hoxha, Albania was one of the most isolated countries behind the Iron Curtain, comparable only to today’s North Korea. Following the World War II, Hoxha aligned himself with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries; however, he broke with the block following Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization policies, which Hoxha perceived as contrary to Marxist doctrine and a threat to his own leadership. In the 1960s Hoxha aligned the country with China, which, with its support, replaced Soviet economic aid and provided loans that sustained the Albanian regime. However, even the relation with China turned sour following the 1972 visit in Beijing of former US President Richard Nixon, the death of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976, and the pragmatic foreign policy of the new Chinese leadership. After the split with China, Albania was left with no outside benefactor and the economic conditions in the country worsened, leading to chronic shortages of basic goods. Hoxha maintained a strong personality cult, built on class struggle and abuse of human rights. In 1976 he declared Albania the first atheist country in the world and banned religious practice. After Hoxha’s death in 1985, he was replaced by his political successor Ramiz Alia. Despite some reforms introduced by Alia, his reign on power was shaken following the anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe, particularly, the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu 1989 in Romania. A year later, in December 1990, following protests from students at the University of Tirana, the party allowed other parties to form, relinquishing its absolute control on power. 

Following nearly a half-century of Stalinist style communist rule, Albania held its first multi-party elections in 1991. A Year later, on March 22nd 1992, Albania’s Workers Party lost its reign on power and the country’s tumultuous transition to democracy started. Following the collapse of a series of Ponzi style investment schemes in 1997, where a large part of the population lost its savings, a period of anarchy followed and only through the help of a UN peacekeeping force led by Italy (known as operation Alba) law and order were re-established. In 1999, the country was host to nearly half a million ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo, who were escaping ethnic persecution at the hands of the former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. 

In the last two decades since the collapse of communism, the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party have dominated political life. The Liberty Party (formerly named Socialist Movement for Integration) of former President Ilir Meta has been a junior government partner from 2019 to 2017, holding the role of the kingmaker. The ruling Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama has been in power since 2013, after being reconfirmed in parliamentary elections in 2017 and 2021. Despite the success at the polls, which is often associated with the socialist well-oiled political machinery, Rama’s tenure as prime minister has been mired in corruption scandals and allegations of ties between government officials and organized crime.  

Despite considerable economic and social progress, the transition from autocratic to democratic rule has been mired in political strife, lack of inter party dialogue and widespread corruption among the highest echelons of power. Electoral processes have also been problematic and contested, mired in accusations of undue political influence, vote buying allegations and have yet to meet internationally recognized standards. In 2008 Albania became a member of NATO. Albania applied for EU membership in April 2009 and was granted EU candidate status in June 2014. The EU held its first intergovernmental conference with Albania in July 2022. 

Albania built a bustling media scene following the collapse of communism, with dozens of TV stations and print outlets. However, these outlets often take an editorial line that suits the owner's economic and political interests, which pushes many journalists toward self-censorship. Although Albania’s Constitution and legal framework guarantees freedom of expression, powerful political, business, and media interests hinder the development of independent outlets and most of the media in the market are perceived as favoring the ruling Socialist Party or the opposition. A fact finding mission in November 2022, from the partner organizations of the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Safety of Journalists, found that the climate for free and independent reporting was worsening in Albania due to attacks on journalists, discrediting rhetoric by politicians, restrictive accesses to information and the capture of significant parts of the media environment by vested business interests.

Albania’s Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA) is not perceived as neither professional nor independent from political interference. According to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe the composition of AMA, which is made of political appointees, raises questions on its political independence, whereas authorities that oversee media should be impartial and independent. The commission has pointed out that there are questions not only on the independence of AMA from political interference but also from big media industry and other corporate controls. The appointment of the former spokesperson of the ruling Socialist Party as chair of AMA has increased concerns amid local and international media watchdogs on possible political interference in the regulator. These concerns increased also after the appointment of a former Socialist Party MP as the head of Public Service Media.

Political actors in Albania, including Prime Minister Edi Rama, often discredit and denigrate critical journalists and media outlets. Edi Rama has imposed unilateral bans from press conferences against some journalists for asking challenging questions, while the leader of the opposition Sali Berisha has associated some media outlets with jewish billionaire George Soros, who he accuses of being behind his sanctioning from the United States as ‘non grata’. Small political parties have restricted access to the broadcast media, particularly during elections campaigns. Data from media monitoring shows that during the recent local election campaign, TV networks gave little airtime to smaller parties and so violated the legal requirements on balanced reporting.

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