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Feature 15 Jun 17

Albanians Fed Up with Politicians’ Election Rhetoric

Voters at the upcoming polls want to know how education can be improved, how the economy can grow and if taxes will be cut, but politicians have only offered slogans and insults.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
People in Tirana. Photo: Loreta Cuka via BIRN

Albanians are heading to the polls for general elections on June 25, but few of them seem to be satisfied with the parties’ political campaigns so far, describing them as empty of policy details and lacking genuine plans for improving people’s lives.

The campaign itself started after three months of political stalemate, when the two leaders of the two main parties, the Socialist Party, PS of PM Edi Rama, and the Democratic Party, PD of opposition leader Lulzim Basha, finally struck a cooperation deal on May 18 that ensured that all the country’s main political forces would participate in the elections.

The three pre-electoral months were characterised by harsh political rhetoric and constant threats from the opposition to not participate in polls, causing doubts that they would be held at the appointed time.

However, when the situation finally started to settle down, the PS and PD trained their rhetoric on the smaller parties, raising the political tension again.

All this seems to have taken its toll on trust in political parties among voters, many of whom told BIRN that they were disappointed with the politicians.

"They don't really care about us and our concerns, so I find it useless to really say what I would like them to take into consideration," said one woman in the Albanian capital who did not want to give her name.

"We are just so confused, from morning to evening we are listening to politicians on TV shouting at each other," said Tirana resident Sabri Bala.

This frustration among the general public escalated during the campaign because television stations have not held debates to examine parties’ political programmes on issues that concern voters.

Prime Minister Edi Rama also turned down the request from his main opponent, Lulzim Basha to have a TV debate.

"For the first time in this election, I've not seen members of the parties confront each other in debates over programmes. All I see is them slamming each other when staging meetings with citizens," said Rakip Memisha.

Education and taxes are voters’ concerns

Rama has led a loud and flashy campaign, dominated by his online trolling of his political opponents using social media memes.

Few electoral promises have been articulated, while Rama’s campaign rhetoric has been focused on the results he believes his government’s reforms have achieved over the last four years.

On the other hand, Basha’s campaign seems to have focused on what was not achieved in those four years by Rama’s government, which he calls a failure.

Many younger voters who spoke to BIRN said that their leading concern was education, and that they have found no clarity about how the main political parties are planning to improve the system.

Erjola Jata, a journalist, said that there is a lot of confusion when it comes to education.

In the summer of 2015, Rama’s government passed a new law on higher education, which was strongly contested by the student unions, opposition and the junior party in the coalition government, the Socialist Movement for Integration.

"We know that the law on higher education has been highly debated and opposed, although none of the parties seems to have a clear strategy about what it is going to do in this regard," Jata said.

Anisa Arranjaku, a young resident of Tirana, said that as a result of this confusion about the law on higher education and its future, students who are taking their exam for university acceptance are also perplexed about the situation.

"I also wanted to hear more from parties when it comes to education financing and investment. Many schools outside Tirana are really bad when it comes to infrastructure and the quality of education," Arranjaku said.

Nineteen-year-old Serxhio Ceka said that he wanted politicians to put their focus on professional education, where he sees that Albania has a lot a do.

"I have followed a professional school in Italy and their system is just amazing and gives you so much. Here you mainly have general schools that in the end don't provide too much, and a politician has the duty to change this," Ceka said.

Many also emphasised that lower taxes should have been promised by the parties who hope to gain power, arguing that politicians have only said that they will strengthen the economy and improve living standards, without giving any clues about how they plan to do it.

"Many are talking about the need to strengthen the economy, although there is no clarity about how this is going to be achieved. The lack of a detailed programme is obvious with any of the parties," Jata said.

Alisa Kastroti, the owner of a small business in the city of Korca, said that she and her husband were waiting to hear from politicians about tax reductions for small businesses.

"This all we care about and we have not heard a single solid promise in this direction," Kastroti complained.

Arranjaku also said that she would be more than glad if any politician spoke about the need for lower taxes, especially when it comes to lower- and medium-level salaries.

Fadil Demirxhiu, a pensioner in Tirana, said meanwhile that though politicians often repeat that they will make the economy strong, they fail to detail how they are going to develop crucial sectors like agriculture and industry.

"Is just nonsense to speak about a strong economy when you don't have any plan to develop agriculture and industry. We are not getting anything real," Demirxhiu said.

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