Republic of Albania
Republic of Albania
Type of Government
The Republic of Albania is an emerging democracy. The government includes a legislature, the unicameral People’s Assembly (Kovendi Popullor); an executive branch consisting of a president, prime minister, and Council of Ministers; and a judicial branch with a Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and multiple appeal and district courts. Seats in the People’s Assembly are filled through a combination of direct popular vote and proportional representation. A three-fifths majority in the People’s Assembly elects the president, who is the head of state. The president selects the prime minister and the Assembly approves the appointment by a simple majority.
With a total area of 11,100 square miles, Albania is slightly larger than the state of Maryland. It is part of the Balkan Peninsula, and the Adriatic and Ionian Seas lie along its east coast. Greece borders Albania’s south and southeast; Macedonia borders the east, and Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo) border the north and northeast. A mountainous highland area covers 70 percent of the country, while the western coastal lowlands contain most of the agricultural lands and the most densely populated areas. Albania’s capital and largest city is Tirana.
Albania’s population is about 3,600,500, most of which is ethnic Albanian. The majority (about 70 percent) are Muslims. Ethnic Albanians are descendants of the Thracian (also called Illyrian) tribes from northwestern Greece, who settled the Balkans in about 2000 BC.
Rome conquered most of the Illyrian kingdom in 167 BC, and it was part of the Byzantine Empire between 535 and 1204. Albania expanded under the rule of Naples’ Angevin kings in the thirteenth century and the Serbs in the fourteenth century. The Turks began to take control in 1388, though an alliance of Albanian chiefs, led by the national hero, Scanderbeg (1405–1468), resisted them from 1443 to 1468. The Turks regained control by 1479 and Albania remained part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire until 1912. During this period, much of the population converted to Islam.
At the end of the First Balkan War in November 1912, the National Assembly, under the leadership of Ismail Kemali (1844–1919), declared Albania’s independence in the Vlor¨e Proclamation. The leading European nations established Albania’s borders in 1913, and they have remained largely the same since then.
Albania was a major battleground in World War I. At the end of the war portions of the country were occupied by Italy, France, and Yugoslavia. In 1920 Albania reasserted its independence and set up a provisional parliamentary government that stayed in power until 1924. A conservative Muslim landlord, Ahmed Zogu (1895–1961), proclaimed Albania a republic and himself president in 1925 and a kingdom in 1928, with himself as king. Italy took over Albania in 1939 at the start of World War II and annexed parts of Montenegro, Kosovo, and northern Greece to the country. This created an ironic victory for Albanian nationalists: Their dream of a greater Albania based on Albanian ethnicity was fulfilled, but it was under foreign rule.
In May 1944 the Congress of Permeti formed an Albanian provisional government. Communist Enver Hoxha (1908–1985), who led Albania’s resistance against Germany and Italy, became premier. He stayed in power for forty years, maintaining Albanian independence through the postwar decades.
In 1991 Albania adopted an interim constitution, the Law on Constitutional Provisions, that instituted the separation of powers, the protection of private property and fundamental human rights, a multiparty legislative body (parliament), and a president. Albanians approved a new constitution in November 1998, which created a government modeled on Western institutions. The 1998 constitution made permanent many aspects of the 1991 constitution, including religious freedom, human rights for ethnic minorities, and property rights.
The new constitution maintains a unicameral legislature, the Assembly of the Republic of Albania, which today has 140 members. Assembly deputies select the national president with a two-thirds vote by secret ballot. The president serves a five-year term. He is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has the power to guarantee adherence to the constitution, carries out the duties of the Assembly when it is not in session, and appoints the prime minister. The Assembly approves the prime minister’s appointment with a simple majority vote.
The prime minister nominates members of the Council of Ministers (the cabinet), and the President appoints them based on this recommendation. The Assembly gives final approval on Council members. The Council holds executive power in the government and implements both foreign and domestic policy.
The Assembly has fifteen standing commissions or committees and is chaired by a president or speaker, who has two deputies. Assembly elections are held at least every four years. The Assembly can determine both domestic and foreign policy direction, declare war, approve or amend the constitution, and approve or nullify international treaties. It controls state radio and television, the state news agency, and other official information media. It elects the president, members of the Supreme Court, the attorney general, and his or her deputies.
At the local level, Albania has thirty-six districts distributed among twelve counties or prefectures. Each district has its own governor—elected by a district council—and administration. District council members are selected based on proportional representation from party lists that are made public prior to elections. Voters directly elect mayors, while city council members are chosen by proportional representation.
The judicial system includes a Constitutional Court (High Court), the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court), a number of district courts, and six courts of appeal. The Constitutional Court consists of nine members whose terms last for a maximum of nine years. The Assembly appoints five and the president four. It resolves any questions involving constitutional interpretation that arise during appeals, determines the constitutionality of laws, and settles disputes among federal and local government agencies.
District courts are trial courts. Appeals can climb from the district level to a court of appeals and finally the Court of Cassation. All three judicial levels include civil, criminal, and military branches. The Court of Cassation is the highest appellate court, with eleven justices appointed by the Assembly for seven-year terms. A group or college of three judges determines Albanian legal verdicts. Though the press sometimes calls the judicial group “the jury,” Albania does not have jury trials.
A Supreme Judicial Council, chaired by the president, appoints and dismisses all other judges. In 1997 it expanded to fifteen members: the president, the chairman of the High Court, the minister of justice, three representatives elected by the Assembly, and nine judges chosen by the National Judicial Conference. Though the judiciary was designed to be independent, it typically lacks resources and trained staff and is influenced by political pressure and corruption.
Political Parties and Factions
The Workers Party, founded in 1941 and representing Albania’s communist contingent, was the only functional political party until the 1990s. It had several secondary organizations, including the Union of Albanian Working Youth and the Women’s Union of Albania. Albania’s 1976 constitution, created under Premier Hoxha’s regime, made the Workers Party the single, official directive power in the government and appointed its secretary as commander-in-chief of the military.
As of the last parliamentary election, Albania had twelve political parties with seats in the Assembly; dozens of other parties have members and active agendas. Albania’s major parties include: the Western-leaning and conservative Democratic Party, led by Sali Berisha; the Democratic Alliance, which is separated from the main Democratic party but still closely aligned with it; the Socialist Party, led by Fatos Nano and with membership composed largely of former Communist Party members; and the Social Democratic Party, a progressive Western-style group, aligned with the Socialist Party.
Ideological differences among the major parties have blurred in recent years. Even former Communists at the heart of the Socialist Party favor budget cuts and International Monetary Fund-backed economic reforms.
From the time he took office in 1944, Premier Hoxha followed the rigid Communist doctrines of Josef Stalin (1879–1953), who ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist. Hoxha was a ruthless and repressive leader, and under his rule Albania became one of the most politically isolated and economically underdeveloped countries in the world.
After Hoxha’s death in 1945, Albania sought closer relations with the West and took steps toward establishing democracy, including the multi-party system, in an effort to overcome its isolation and poverty. Elections held in 1991 gave the Communist Party a clear majority, but a general strike and street demonstrations quickly forced them out of office. In June 1991 the party renamed itself the Socialist Party and renounced its rigid ideology. The opposition Democratic Party won a landslide victory in 1992, and Sali Berisha (1944–) became Albania’s first elected president.
Berisha focused the country on creating democratic reform and a free-market economy, as well as integrating itself into the international community, but a crisis derailed much of his progress. Large numbers of Albanians had invested in shady pyramid schemes, and the collapse of these schemes in March 1997 left many Albanians bankrupt and angry. Armed riots and looting broke out nationwide, heavily damaging an already fragile infrastructure and leaving the government almost powerless. A United Nations–sponsored multinational protection force entered Albania and eventually overcame the anarchy. The UN then established an interim government and set up elections in June 1997. The elections returned the Socialists to power and forced Berisha’s resignation. Between 1997 and 2002 Albanians elected several Socialist governments, and democratic institutions gradually gained strength.
About two million ethnic Albanians (Kosovars) lived in Serbia and Montenegro (the former Yugoslavia) in the early 1990s. In the latter part of the decade, Albania served as an outpost for NATO troops when a crisis erupted just across the Albanian border in Kosovo. In the spring of 1999, when NATO staged airstrikes in Kosovo to forestall a program of “ethnic cleansing” by the Serbs, about 440,000 Kosovars fled to Albania. Most returned to their homes later that year.
As Albania moves into the twenty-first century, its democratic institutions are stabilizing. Alfred Spiro Moisiu (1929–), a consensus candidate, was elected president in 2002, and a truce among the political parties helped usher in a period of economic progress, government reform, and improved international relations.
Though its economy has grown steadily, Albania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. The transition from a centrally planned to a market-oriented economy remains challenging. A large underground economy fueled primarily by illegal activities, estimated to represent 50 percent of national productivity, has hampered its growth.
Albania is working hard to attract foreign and domestic investment and is participating in an economic restructuring program with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Albania still needs to enact a transparent and uniform legal system to regulate business transactions and property ownership, restructure its banking and tax system, and reduce corruption. The country also needs to build an adequate energy and transportation infrastructure to support its growth and general quality of life.
Bureaucratic corruption remains a problem, as does emigration of thousands of the unemployed to Italy and other developed countries. However, Albania appears committed to building and repairing its economy and constructively resolving its political and legal issues.
Albania participates actively in many international efforts and organizations, both economic and military. Albania is seeking integration into the Euro-Atlantic community and has applied for both NATO and European Union (EU) membership. Albania is a staunch supporter of the United States, including its efforts to end international terrorism.
Regionally, Albania has helped resolve several interethnic conflicts in south-central Europe and discouraged Albanian extremists in the region. It has reestablished diplomatic relations with the former Republic of Yugoslavia since the ouster of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic (1941–2006) in 2000. Along with Serbia, it is committed to a peaceful solution to the status of Kosovo.
Blejer, Mario I. Albania, from Isolation Toward Reform. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund, 1992.
LaCava, Gloria, and Rafaella Y. Nanetti, “Albania: Filling the Vulnerability Gap.” Washington, DC: World Bank, 2000.
Young, Antonia. Albania. Oxford, England: Clio Press, 1997.