Voters examine the voter lists, Tirana. Source: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly / Flickr
In September 2019, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Albanian Enterprise Institute published a study which outlined and analysed the costs that at present are incurred by party candidates. The study reveals how much the political landscape in Albania is open to citizens’ engagement with politics.
The “cost of politics” is made up of the costs that a political party or a candidate faces from the moment when they decide to run for office until the moment votes are counted. These costs include money spent on organising meetings and renting offices, as well as food and refreshments for staff, transportation costs, and printing posters and leaflets.
Currently, the average monthly wage in Albania is €227. But many MPs have publicly said that the costs they faced during elections were as high as €500,000 – almost 100 years of yearly average income in Albania. These costs can deter citizens from running for election.
Political parties in Albania are allocated money based on the latest results of parliamentary elections. So, the more votes they got at the last election, the more money the political party is given. Therefore, the system favours major political parties and makes it difficult for new political forces to participate in the democratic process. What is more, no funding or reimbursement of electoral expenses is provided to independent candidates.
Because of this, it is almost impossible to guarantee the right of every citizen to access the political process on equal terms, which is as an essential condition of a pluralistic democracy. Democratic regimes based on popular sovereignty differ from other regimes precisely because they offer all citizens an equal and transparent political space to compete for elected posts. This condition is not met based on the way the parties are financed under the Albanian legislation.
A WFD conference on the cost of politics in Albania in April 2019.
The high cost of Albanian politics
Some of the party officials directly involved in political campaigns in Albania explained that, in their experience, the amount of money a candidate needs to spend in order to win one vote varies in accordance with the size of the political party represented by the candidate. They explained that in past elections a candidate from a small political party would have had to spend €30 to €40 per vote won. The bigger parties, on the other hand, usually spent €10 to €15 per vote won. For a small political party aiming to win 100,000 votes, the costs would amount to €3-4 million. For a bigger party, it would be €1-1.5 million. On average, the cost of winning a vote in Albania is €15.
By this logic, given that 1,557,932 citizens voted in the last elections, the cost of an electoral campaign in Albania can be estimated to be around €23,368,980; The average cost for an candidate’s election campaign to become a member of parliament is estimated to be around €166,000. This figure is 10 times higher than the official amount declared by political parties.
But a mayor of a small town in Albania stated that “unless you can raise up to €300,000 before the elections it is not worth even starting your campaign.” Interviews conducted with a mayor of another similar sized city supported this view. The mayor explained that his costs during elections amounted to €200,000 and that the party did not support him during the campaign. Another mayoral candidate reported that he spent more than €200,000 during his campaign in a big city in Albania, mostly money taken from his own businesses and savings.
Political parties will always need financial support to run in elections. Given that they are essential to the Albanian political system, crucial institutional reforms are needed to change how elections are funded. Financing political parties should be transparent and accountable, and institutions should be empowered to provide oversight. This would ensure a fair political competition and uphold democratic values in Albania.