Albania exhibits mid-range performance across all categories of democracy in the Global State of Democracy Indices (GSoDI), scoring in the top 25 per cent globally for Freedom of Religion. Albania performs in the high range with regard to Elected Government and Freedom of Movement but shows low performance in Absence of Corruption. Over the past five years, its performance has been stable with no notable changes. It has been a candidate country for the European Union since 2014, and accession negotiations were initiated in July 2022. The Albanian economy is weakly diversified, mainly dependent on services, tourism and agriculture. The country struggles with high emigration and is heavily reliant on neighbouring countries for trade and remittances, making it vulnerable to external shocks. Albania’s transition to a market economy has been characterised by corrupt privatisation efforts and state-led pyramid schemes. The country’s democratisation was mostly managed by elites who were immersed in clan politics, and the resulting “culture of corruption” has hindered the formation of strong institutions.
Albania is one of the most homogeneous countries in Europe and does not exhibit any major politically salient ethnic cleavages. Instead, ingrained domestic regional divisions between North and South are the major fault lines in Albania. There is economic disparity between the more developed South and the less developed and North, as well as between rural and urban areas, and these differences significantly impacted Albania’s democratisation. Despite recent changes, people from the North tend to generally vote for the Democratic Party (PD), while voters in the South often support the Socialist Party (PS) due to the origin of the parties' leaders and the resulting clientelist ties. The post-communist legacy adds another layer to the regional divide, as PD represents a strong anti-communist stance and Northerners suffered from a particular suppression by the regime, whereas the South was the birthplace of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha and PS is the successor of his political party. Allegations of ties with Enver Hoxha’s communist regime are part of the usual discourse to discredit political opponents. Politics tend to be highly personalised and polarised, fuelling partisan violence in the society. The Freedom Party, the third biggest and a ‘kingmakers’ party, has been accused of sustaining clientelism and corruption, failing to deliver political change.
The political scene is dominated by a limited number of actors, primarily the PS and the PD, and a few long-standing smaller affiliates such as the Freedom Party (formerly known as the Socialist Movement for Integration). Possibilities for new political actors to enter remain limited and trust in electoral processes is corroded by recurring allegations of irregularities and clientelist behaviour.
In recent years, Albania has made important progress on gender equality through the development of the recently adopted National Strategy for Gender Equality (2021) and multiple laws. Progress is evidenced in women’s representation as government ministers. The overall gender quality gains are also reflected in the GSoDI data. Nevertheless, gender equality is persistently challenged by systemic issues – gendered educational outcomes, gender gaps in economic opportunities, and widespread gender-based violence – coupled with weaknesses in the implementation of laws.
The fight against corruption and strengthening the judiciary remain Albania’s biggest challenges in the years ahead. Although structural reforms are taking place, their effects take time to materialize in a system with deep-rooted corruption. Therefore, it will be important to watch the progress of these reforms and their potential impact on the Rule of Law, particularly related to Absence of Corruption and Judicial Independence.
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