Can Gjergj Bojaxhi change Albanian politics?

Can Gjergj Bojaxhi change Albanian politics?

On his Facebook page on the 15th of January 2016, former senior member of the centre right Democratic Party Gjergj Bojaxhi, called for a revolution against politics as usual in Albania and announced a run for office in 2017. This begs two questions: How possible is his vision? And how credible is he?

The man who climbed Everest now wants to climb another peak, this time much closer to home by creating his own political party and running in the country’s mid- 2017 general elections.

The former head of Albania’s energy company KESH and former senior member of the centre right Democratic Party (PD) says he wants to bring an end to the current status quo and breathe fresh life into a nation that has had “its hopes, dreams and abilities suffocated by a political class that cares more about saving their seat in parliament then catering to the needs of their constituents.”

The creation of a new political party is not a new thing in Albania, but a new political party that promulgates a new vision for politics with substantial promises of grassroots involvement is.

The status quo

Since the fall of communism in 1991 the Albanian political scene has been completely dominated by two political parties. The centre right Democratic Party of Albania (Partia Demokratike e Shqipërisë, PD) and the centre left Socialist Party of Albania (Partia Socialiste e Shqipërisë, PS). The running of the country for the last 26 years has been a political hot potato between the two.

PD was founded in 1990 following student demonstrations that brought down the communist regime and first took power in 1992 under the leadership of Sali Berish and Aleksander Meksi who governed as president and prime minister respectively. They quickly lost power to PS in 1997 after calling snap elections to quell civic unrest following the catastrophic bankruptcy of the infamous pyramid schemes where thousands of citizens lost money and blamed it on the government who supported these schemes. The Democratic Party of Albania is currently the official opposition with Lulzim Basha as their leader.

At the helm of government now lies Prime Minister Edi Rama as the current leader of PS. PS is the legal successor to the Party of Labour of Albania, PLA, which was once the Communist Party of Albania. It first came to power in 1997 and won again in 2001. They have proved popular with the youth, promising a renaissance of the county if they won the 2013 elections.

Albanians have put their faith in Rama’s promises, allowing him to form a coalition government with the Socialist Movement of Integration Party (Lëvizja Socialiste për Intigrim, LSI) winning a combined 81 out of 140 seats in the parliamentary assembly.

It is widely known that all three parties have a history of endemic corruption. For example, the leader of LSI, Ilir Meta, was indicted two year ago for corruption allegations. The indictments follow the publication of a video tape in January where Meta, then deputy prime minister, is heard discussing an alleged corruption deal and a contract killing. Naturally Meta states no wrongdoing. This did not stop him from being kicked out of the party only to return shortly after. He now serves as Speaker of the House.

A new page?

This is the political lions den into which Bojaxhi walks. He tested his popularity by running in Tirana’s mayoral election in 2015 as an independent candidate, winning 16,000 votes. However, he was inevitably out-done by the PS candidate, Erjon Veliaj.

This loss has not discouraged Bojaxhi. With his trademark white shirt and blue jeans he appears on national TV and radio espousing his new vision of Albania, which at the moment has not fully materialised into concrete policy; instead he focuses on selling a dream of a new Albania to voters, stating he wants to raise the self-esteem of the Albanian people and encourage grassroots democracy. Yet still lacing any concrete policy steps, his rhetoric still remains a far-off vision.

It is obvious Bojaxhi wants to be seen as a new breed of politician. Yet, despite his virtuous persona there are those who have their doubts about him. This is due to both his lack of continual political engagement and his apparent lack of understanding of the fundamental problems Albania is facing, demonstrated by his unspecific reforms. Some go as far as accusing him of being a mere pawn of the PS, strategically placed to take away from the support base of the PD. Bojaxhi denies these claims outright.

It will be difficult for him to reconcile his new independent and liberal minded persona with his past close relations with the establishment. Albanians remain cautious of figures like Bojaxhi who promise the world but have not credibly shown how they are different from the rest. His chances of actually winning the 2017 elections, given his lack of current momentum and policy reforms, remain less then slim.

A new Albanian project

If Bojaxhi is to be Albanians’ answer to a new kind of politics he needs to answer some fundamental and practical questions. He will need to ensure longer term financing and will need to provide a more concrete policy platform. Even more importantly, he will need to win the trust of everyday Albanians who hold firm to party loyalties.

The Albanian political scene is a mesh of political titans, backroom favours, and business interests that cannot be broken purely by political means. For Albania to move forward it needs new genuine new leadership who can bring a new mentality, a workable plan supported by international organisations, and eager businesses that can provide opportunities for Albanians to prosper. So far Bojaxhi has not shown he will be the man to provide this.

Categories: Europe, Politics

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This article was published as part of the GRI Guest Post Series. GRI guest posts come from leading experts in business, government, and academia. The series strives to bring a diverse range of perspectives on the critical issues of our time. The views expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of GRI.