Path: Table of Countries --> Albania since 1963
COUNTRY: The Party System from 1963 to 2000, by Kathryn B. Sanderson*

When the wave of political pluralism swept through Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Albania remained the most impoverished, repressed, and isolated country in the region. The small Balkan nation, known locally as Republika e Shqiperise, was nearing the end of its long period of complete communist rule which dominated from the end of World War Two to the mid-1980s. More than four decades of pure Stalinism shaped the political culture of Albania, controlled every aspect of its economy, and kept its people under conditions of severe oppression and abuse. Enver Hoxha, the head of state from the beginning of communist rule to the beginning of its decline, steered the country on an irrational quest for extreme dogmatism, preventing the possibility of survival through beneficial reforms. The Communist party, also known as the Party of Labor and the Socialist Party, was powerfully organized and controlled every aspect of society.

The government was finally forced to surrender to the acceptance of political pluralism in 1990, and since then Albania has witnessed four legislative elections: the elections of 1991, 1992, 1996, and 1997. Many new parties have formed since the legalization of pluralism, creating a dynamic arena of political competition between themselves and the Socialist Party. Power has legitimately changed hands twice since the first pluralist election in 1991, but none of the elections have achieved great validity. The challenges of rebuilding the country from the ruins of communism has made the transition to democracy especially difficult in Albania, and has prevented the parties in government from gaining approval and legitimacy from the impoverished and unstable electorate. Although the process of democratic consolidation is still in its initial stages, and is beset by many intimidating obstacles, the country has persisted in its development of new political and economic institutions and it is unlikely to regress back to totalitarianism in the near future. The new major political players will compete for the opportunity to continue Albaniaís process of political, economic, and social reform.

It is ironic that a country that was arguably ill-suited for collectivism in the 1940s became the paradigm of extreme communist policy. The regime was established with the help of Yugoslavian forces, and achieved success through a national liberation disguise. The government offered its citizens a sort of social contract for basic welfare, but also supported a hierarchical nomenklatura system for party officials. The Albanian Communist Party controlled all levels and branches of government (the Peopleís Assembly, the Council of Ministers, the courts, the mass organizations, and the local administrations.) It was also highly organized internally, with a politburo and a secretariat similar to those of the Soviets. As opposition was obliterated, economic nationalization was forcibly installed, and social organizations were destroyed, a completely repressive Stalinist state was established and the country began to resemble a situation similar to George Orwellís 1984. The rule of law was absent, and violations of citizensí rights became commonplace. Enver Hoxha, who was at some time the party general secretary, the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the commander in chief of the military, led the development of the new system. It was partly his obsessive need for uncompromised Marxism-Leninism that directed the ideology of the party and the development of the government.

The long period of communist rule may be better understood through the observance of significant foreign relations developments throughout the early and middle phases of Albanian communism. In the late 1940s, Albania broke relations with its communist parent nation, Yugoslavia, due to conflict between Belgrade and Moscow. It received a lot of foreign assistance from the USSR due to this move; the small country has always been of disproportionate importance to its physical size. In 1960, when the Soviet regime began to appear to be very slightly reformist, Hoxha and his party became dissatisfied with what they viewed as a betrayal of pure ideology and realigned with the Chinese Maoists. Albania was at one time the only ally of the extremist Chinese regime, and they therefore received a great deal of foreign assistance from this union also. The large amount of foreign funds flowing into the Balkan nation actually allowed the government to achieve significant economic development during the earlier years of the postwar era. However, Hoxhaís dissatisfaction even with the tiny amount of ideological compromise found in the Maoist regime caused Albania to completely withdraw from all foreign contact in 1976 and to turn in on itself as an autonomous and independent entity.

The 1980s brought serious problems to Albanian communism. Economic decline and social malaise had descended on the nation with the drying up of foreign assistance funds. The countryís old leader, Hoxha, was nearing the end of his ability to lead the nation, and would soon need to choose a successor that could follow in his unique footsteps. Ramiz Alia, a young, adaptive, and agreeable party official, was chosen to succeed the father of Albanian communism. Alia desperately clung to Hoxhaís old ideas after the death of the archetypal Stalinist, and adopted many new measures for maintaining support for the failing regime. He tried to reform the system instead of drastically changing it, which would end up being his great failure in the preservation of communist rule. Significant social groups, such as students, intellectuals, and peasants, were defecting from the party base, and were becoming inspired by the example of the transformation of neighboring regimes. Alia and the Party of Labor (a.k.a. the Albanian Communist Party and later the Socialist Party) pursued a program of very cautious democratization and superficial pluralism. However, the populaceís growing commitment to democratic ideals and opposition to the system, aided by international promoters of democracy, were too great of a challenge to Alia and his weak strategy of cooptation. On December 11, 1990, student protestors forced the government to truly accept political pluralism and to plan legitimate elections for the next year.

The transition faced by the Albanian government officials in 1990 was a triple transition: political, economic and foreign policy institutions all required a massive overhaul. After more than forty years of highly centralized rule, the country was starting from a position of weakness on a long road of reform and change. In the context of regional, tribal, and religious conflicts, continuing external threats from Yugoslavian neighbors, and a state of societal breakdown, the lack of democratic preconditions was sorely felt in Albania. The road to a market democracy would be strewn with landmines in the form of the cumulative political, economic, and social legacies of Hoxhaís communist dictatorship. Moving along this road was made monumentally more difficult by Aliaís desperate attempts to prolong communism. Instability, economic destruction, and anarchy in Albania precluded the achievement of a revised constitutional framework, new political and economic institutions, and a new state-citizen relationship. The Albanian Party of Labor tried to promote a reformist popular image, but their ideological history made legitimate change untenable, and they ended up using all possible means to impede opposition activity. Alia himself came under attack from the opposite poles of his party; he was not reformist enough for the radicals and was not reactive enough for the traditionalists.

After studying the performance and consequences of the four elections of the 1990s, it is evident that the country has in fact traveled along the course of democratization. But even after the final election, it is still obvious that Albania still lacks many requirements for the change. Citizens and parties do not have a true commitment to democratic behavior, elections are free but not necessarily fair, there is a great deal of economic disparity, and the elements of political and social citizenship are absent in a situation of mere formal democracy.

When the Party of Labor agreed to allow pluralist, multiparty elections for 1991, they did not also agree to allow those elections to be completely free and fair. Incredible incumbency advantages, especially majoritarian electoral laws, media coverage, and government support, ensured the impossibility of an opposition victory. The APL, which had recently renamed itself the Albanian Socialist Party, concentrated on security, continuity, and gradual reformism as their ideological platform. They appealed to rural areas, sought popularity through releasing prisoners, and engaged in mudslinging against the newly forming opposition parties. The main opposition party forming at the time was the Democratic Party. Promoting the idea of "being like Europe," the Democrats ran on a platform of political, economic, and social radical reform. They were a catch-all party for all those in favor of reform and democratization. The Republican Party also participated in the election, as a middle-of-the-road option between the extreme left APL and the extreme right Democratic Party. A total of eleven parties ran candidates in the election.

The results of the 1991 election were not a clean break with communism, but they were a significant achievement for an opposition that was young, oppressed, and had little resources. Alia was easily elected president by a large APL majority in the Peopleís Assembly, even though he did not win a seat through the election. The Socialist Party won a majority of seats in the legislature, but not the needed 2/3 to push through new laws. A provisional constitution had governed the election, and a prime focus of the new government would be to draft a more permanent document. However, the coalition government that was in power, dominated by the APL, was not accepted by the electorate and was not proving to be successful in government. Its attempt at only limited reform caused frustration, anger, and fear, and led to the defection of the Democratic Party after an ultimatum was not honored. The government agreed to new elections for early the next year, and new activity began to stir in the political arena: new parties formed, existing parties reorganized, and party support bases began to consolidate.

The context for the 1992 elections was a country in chaos. The new political system was not performing as expected, and the people were disappointed with the apparent lack of reflection of their will in government. A new compensatory electoral framework was established to govern the election: a mixed system of single-member constituencies and compensatory proportional representation would hopefully generate fairer results in this second attempt at democracy. There would be 100 constituency seats and 40 seats chosen from national party lists. The Socialist Party platform focused on their break with the APL and the communist legacy, as well as on the question of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. However, the demoralized and divided members of the party ran a mostly negative campaign, focusing much more on their mudslinging efforts than on policy and ideology. The Democratic platform concentrated on political and economic reform, the restoration of law and order, a new constitution to replace the interim constitution currently in effect, and a general overhaul of the government apparatus. The leader of the party, Sali Berisha, led a campaign reminiscent of American political campaigns; he focused mainly on the issues but did allow an amount of negative attacks against the opposing party. Eleven parties participated in the 1992 election.

In an admirable democratic act, the Socialists accepted defeat in a resounding Democratic victory. Alia resigned before he could be replaced forcefully, and Sali Berisha assumed the presidency with a mandate from the Peopleís Assembly. The Democrats took 92 (66 per cent) of the congressional seats, while the Socialists were reduced from 68 percent to 27 percent. A few other parties also won slight representation, such as the Social Democratic Party, the Union for Human Rights, and the Republican Party. The Democrats had a daunting task before them: the complete transformation of a country that had been under the grip of totalitarian government control for half a century in an unstable environment of regional conflict and internal discord.

After four years of reform politics under Democratic leadership, the 1996 elections promised to be a referendum on the performance of the party in government and President Berisha. The party system appeared especially volatile, with more than thirty registered parties but not nearly that many legitimately organized parties. The Democratic majority in congress pushed through a controversial change in the electoral system: they reduced the amount of seats allocated on the basis of proportional representation and increased the amount allocated according to constituencies. This change would work in their favor as the incumbent party, although before 1992 they would have argued against it. The opposition parties were justifiably angered by this move, which appeared to be a self-interested abuse of power, and which touched off an extremely negative tone for the whole election. Polarization, friction, and intolerance would characterize the campaign period for the still very unconsolidated democracy and prompt both domestic and international criticism on the legitimacy of the results.

The Democratic platform for the election stuck to a very moderate ideological emphasis on continued stability and growth, emphasizing the considerable achievements of the government since the last election. The Socialist Party, in a coalition called the Center Pole with the Democratic Alliance (a leftist faction of the Democratic Party), focused on Democratic failures and negative social and economic dislocations. They exhibited a great deal of confidence in the idea that the population would be dissatisfied with the performance of the incumbents, which prompted them to foolishly make little effort in gaining new sources of support. However, the Socialists had a good deal of difficulty persuading the world of the changes that they had made since the fall of communism, allowing the Democrats to be able to instill a fear of Socialist intention to reverse good reforms into the minds of the people. A total of about 24 parties participated in the election.

The landslide victory for the Democrats was apparent even before the end of the election day when three leftist organizations: the Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Democratic Alliance, made a bold move that set off a wave of antidemocratic behavior. These parties began a boycott of the elections hours before the closing of the polls as it became obvious to them that the Democrats would maintain a large majority in the Peopleís Assembly. It is probable that this politically suicidal move was premeditated, since the lack of effective communication in the country precludes the possibility that leftist officials across large regions could have made such a decision spontaneously. These parties made charges against the Democrats of unfairly altering the election results, and immediately embarked on a campaign of vilification and delegitimization of the newly re-elected party. The opposition parties were in organizational and ideological disarray, but they did attract the attention of international officials who were primed for receiving just such a charge of electoral fraud from a nation like Albania. The months that followed saw the economic and social fallout of failed pyramid investment schemes, in which a large portion of the Albanian population lost their life savings. Blaming their losses on the government, the people easily fell into the hands of the leftist opposition, and the country descended into an armed revolt that the government was unable to control. The 1996 elections were a missed opportunity for democratic institutionalization and consolidation.

In March 1997, President Berisha accepted the installation of a national reconciliation government, general amnesty for rebels, a surrender of arms, and a plan for new parliamentary elections for June of 1997. The escalating anarchy in the country, especially in the rebellious southern regions, necessitated the deployment of a multinational protection force. Berisha was deliberately isolated by his party, which didnít want to be associated with the current state of the country. Albania appeared to have learned nothing from its previous election experiences as the impossibility of the restoration of democracy became clear.

The elections planned for late June 1997 promised to be in the international spotlight. Observers from the CSCE and from neighboring countries would play a large role in orchestrating the actual process. The two main parties on the clearly opposite poles sought alliances with smaller parties in order to aid their chances of victory. A third organization tried to cut into the vote: the United Albanian Right consisted of the Republican Party, the National Front, the Christian Democratic Party, the Movement to Democracy, and other conservative organizations. There seemed to be no focus on the (irreconcilable) ideological issues; the campaign was violent, negative, and undemocratic on all sides. Although both sides pledged to abide by the results of the election, there was no such democratic feeling in the campaign techniques of the parties. The 29th of June was a dangerous day to go to the polls in Albania.

The results of this fourth attempt at democratic elections were evidence of an angry electorate. It was a decisive victory for the Socialists, marking a second transfer of power in a five year span. The Socialists appeared to demonstrate a truly national reach, but it is possible that the people were searching only for an alternative to the party that they blamed for their current situation. The CSCE gave its approval to the legitimacy of the elections, but with qualifying statements that the country did the best that it could under the extreme circumstances in which it had to function. Admittedly, the observers compromised their standards in accepting the results of such a violent, rushed, and emotional process. The Socialist Party faced three daunting tasks when it resumed control of the legislature after its brief respite: the restoration of law and order, national reconciliation, and economic revival. In the atmosphere of Slobodan Milosovicís ethnic cleansing campaign, President Rexhep Mejdani and his Socialist parliament have a great challenge to fare better than the Democrats did in the continuing democratization process.

The current governmental structure of Albania has been firmly in place only since the 1997 elections, but has been in development since the provisional constitutional measures of the 1990 transition. The Peopleís Assembly, known in Albania as the Kuvendi Popullore, is a unicameral, parliamentary legislative body composed of 155 members. 115 are now elected in single member constituency districts, while 40 are taken off of national party lists to compensate for the non-proportional nature of the constituency districts. The President is elected for five year terms by the Peopleís Assembly, and works with a executive Council of Ministers in the administration of the country. The Supreme Court is also elected by the Peopleís Assembly, which reveals that there is no true balance of powers among branches since the legislature has the power to appoint both other branches. Albania passed a new constitution in 1998, and it can be assumed that these current government structure specifications were ratified in that work.

Continuity and Change Since 1962

Original Parties from 1950-1962, Continuing to 2000:

601 Socialist Party of Albania or Partia Socialiste e Shqiperise -- PSSH/PSA/PSL/ACP/APL. Originally the Communist Party and then the Party of Labor, the Socialist Party was founded in 1941 and held a complete monopoly on political power in the country from 1944 to 1990. The name changes have been strategic choices by the leadership of the party and have had little effect on the party organization and membership. The Socialist Party has preserved the APL's internal structure, nationwide network, and organizational resources to remain the best organized party in the country. The party was led by Enver Hoxha until his death in 1985, when he passed the torch to Ramiz Alia, a loyal party member who was unable to save the APL from its imminent failure. While the party adapted to the new pluralism and retired some of its older leaders in 1990-1995, the party did little in the way of actual reform until 1996, when it formally abandoned Marxist-Leninist ideology. "Because of its previous status and resources, and perhaps because some Albanians feel uncomfortable with the uncertainty associated with democratic transition and market reform, the Socialist Party continues to have popular support despite its brutal legacy" (CSCE, 1997: 7). They won 65 percent of the seats in the 1997 election.

New Parties Formed since 1962, Continuing to 2000:

602 National Front or Balli Kombetar -- BK/PBK. The National Front dates back to the 1940s as a resistance movement to the Italian and German fascist occupation. Consisting of former landowners and formal political prisoners, the party advocates the restoration of property rights and decommunization. Although it remains popular in the Albanian diaspora, the National Front lacks a significant block of voters and only won 2 per cent of the legislative seats in the 1997 election.

603 Unity of the Right --DBSH. The Unity of the Right was a new player in the 1997 elections and won one per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly. It can be assumed that they formed to attempt to oppose the strength of the left in the recent election, and it is not clear whether they will persist as a political organization.

604 Greek Minority Party/Unity for Human Rights --OMONIA/UHP/PBDNJ. Originally formed for the 1991 election to represent the ethnic Greek community in Albania, OMONIA was the only minority party in that election to win more than one per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly. Due to a new election law after that election, the party was forced to change its name and stance in order to not appear to be an ethnically based organization. It has since broadened to include advocacy of minority and human rights for all, but remains essentially a southern based party (where most ethnic Greeks reside). It won three per cent of the seats in the legislature in 1997.

605 Party of the Democratic Alliance of Albania or Partia Aliance Demokratika Shqiperise --PAD. After the Democratic Party's participation in the 1991 election, several large factions within its membership felt the need to differentiate themselves from a simple anti-communism ideology and to form new political organizations. The Democratic Alliance was one of these cases, and has ironically defined itself as the communist wing of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Alliance enjoys support from urban, middle class intellectuals. It has entered into alliances with the Socialist Party in recent elections, seeing itself as more of a member of the leftist camp than of the rightist. It has also been an outspoken government critic, especially in matters of foreign policy. This party won one per cent of the legislative seats in the 1997 election.

606 Albanian Agrarian Party or Partia Agrar Shqiptare --PAS. Although the rural population is traditionally associated with communist parties, the Albanian Agrarian Party is pro-market reformist and rightist. As a very recently formed party, they won one per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly in the 1997 election.

607 Democratic Party of the Right --PDD. Formed in 1994 as another splinter of the Dmeocratic Party, the PDD calls for the abrogation of major legislation on land policies and privatization. It hasn't developed into a significant political force, and has never won seats in an election. However, it is too early to call the party terminated, since it has only been in existence for six years and is still recognized as a party by several Albanian sources.

608 Christian Democratic Party --PDK. "The Christian Democratic Party has its base in the northern part of the country, and is frequently called the party representing the interests of the Roman Catholics" (CSCE 8). It has been referred to as a rightist party of little consequence, but it did win one per cent of the seats in the 1997 election to the People's Assembly.

609 --Democratic Party of Albania or Partia Demokratike te Shqiperise --PDSH/PD. As the very first opposition party to be founded after the legalization of plurality in 1990, the Democratic Party has been known as a catch-all anticommunist organization. Its demands have included pluralistic democracy, far-reaching reform on all levels and in all areas of government, the rule of law, human rights, a market economy, and national unity. Its main support bases are students, intellectuals, and workers, but it has enjoyed support and participation by many other groups. Its lack of organizational experience has contributed to its tendency to be plagued by factionalism, its inability to efficiently run the government, and its propensity to engage in negative campaigning techniques. As the party in power from 1992-1996, the Democrats pushed many beneficial reforms through the administration. However, their advantage as the first opposition party gave way to their disadvantage as the incumbent party during a very tough period of Albanian history, and they were beaten by the Socialists in the 1997 elections. After winning a huge majority in the 1996 elections, the Democrats were reduced to 16 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly in 1997.

6010 Movement of Legality Party or Partia Levizja e Legalitetit. "The Legality Party is essentially the monarchist party of Albania, supporting the installation of King Zog's son Leka as a constitutional monarch" (CSCE, 1997: 8). With all of the dissatisfaction with the current political regime's progress in political and economic reform, parties like Legality have gained support from the disillusioned population. This party won one per cent of the seats in the 1997 election.

6011 Republican Party of Albania or Partia Republika e Shqiperise --PRSH. As the second opposition party founded in for the elections in 1991, the Republican Party was in the shadow of the Democratic Party from the beginning. They had remaining ties with former President Alia, and opposed full opposition to the communist regime. "More than any other Albanian political force, the Albanian Republican Party was faced with an identity crisis. In an attempt to create a social base, it moved steadily to the right, adopting an increasingly demagogic posture on many issues" (Biberaj, 1998: 286). The Republicans have failed to win any significant amount of seats in the legislature; in 1997 they won one per cent of the seats.

6012 Party of National Unity or Partia e Unitetit Kombetare --PUK. The National Unity Party claims to advocate the reunification of all historical Albanian regions in neighboring countries. It is not a significant opposition party, and only won one per cent of the legislative seats in the 1997 election.

6013 Social Democratic Party of Albania or Partia Social Demokratike e Shqiperise -- SDP/PSDS. Viewed as a relatively centrist organization, the Social Democratic Party has been the third-largest bloc in the People's Assembly since the 1992 election. The Social Democrats were originally supportive of the Democratic Party but have recently moved more towards the leftist bloc, leaving a small faction, the Social Democratic Union Party, to support the more rightist power. Some of the leaders of the party have distinctive roots in the reformist wing of the APL. The Social Democrats held four per cent of the seats in Congress from 1992-1997, and have held six seats since then.

6014 Social Democratic Union Party --USDS. A faction of the Social Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Union Party broke off when they felt that the organization was drifting too far towards the leftist bloc. Leaders have said that this group will form a genuine social democratic party, not influenced by the old communist mentalities and practices.

Original Parties from 1950-1962, Terminated: none

New Parties Formed since 1962, Terminated before 2000: none


Biberaj, Elez. 1998. Albania in Transition: The Rocky Road to Democracy. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.)

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), Albania's Parliamentary Elections of 1997. July 1997. Accessed on August 1, 2000 from

European Forum. Basic Facts of Albania. Accessed August 1, 2000 from

European Forum. Political Developments in Albania since 1989. Accessed August 1, 2000 from

Rose, Richard. 2000. International Encyclopedia of Elections. (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc.)

World Encyclopedia of Parliaments and Legislatures. 1998. (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc.)

Zickel, Raymond E. and Walter R. Iwaskiw. 1994. Albania: a Country Study. (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress.)

*Participant in Northwestern University's Summer Camp for Political Party Research, June-August, 2000