Albania is considered a hybrid democracy, while its indicators, especially regarding media freedom, are declining, after the gun attack on the national television Top Channel, considered one of the most serious in the last three decades.
Freedom House’s “Nations in Transit” report for 2022 classifies Albania as a “hybrid regime” while the country does not reach more than 45.8% of the overall scoring system for the pillars of democracy.
Throughout 2022 and early 2023, the media has faced gun attacks, confiscation, beatings of journalists and verbal aggression. In the early hours of the morning of March 26, from a walking car, a Kalashnikov was fired in the direction of the Top Channel television building, killing its guard. The Prosecutor’s Office of Tirana and the police are continuing the investigations, while the serious event brought the reaction of the highest leaders of the political class, diplomatic headquarters, international organizations and the journalist community itself, who demanded the clarification of the event and the arrest of the perpetrators.
But while the media sector has regressed, the investigations of the new justice institutions have marked progress in a number of cases of corruption and organized crime. From the end of 2021 until now, two important former ministers of the Rama government, the one of the Interior, Saimir Tahiri, has been convicted for abuse of office, while Lefter Koka has been left in prison accused of corruption for the so-called “incinerator scheme”. For the same issue, SPAK is also conducting investigations for the former Minister of Finance, Arben Ahmetaj, against whom controls were also carried out in the apartments owned by him. As for the justice reform, the vetting process continues, for the removal of judges and prosecutors with problems in declaring assets, professional performance and clean image. According to reports, from the start of the reform in 2016 until the end of 2022, “556 magistrates and other justice officials have been investigated. Of these, only 37% of them have passed the vetting, 43% have been dismissed, while another 18% have resigned”.
The political situation remains tense as the largest opposition party faces an administrative lawsuit over ownership of the seal, making it impossible to register for the May 14 local elections with its historic logo. After the Administrative Court of Appeal decided to return the case to the Court of First Instance in Tirana, ADP led by former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, officially declared “non grata” by U.S. State Department, was registered in the local elections, under the logo of the coalition “Together We win”, with the Freedom Party of former President Meta and two other parties.
On the other hand, the Rama government was shocked by the “McGonigal scandal”, in which the former senior head of the FBI, Charles McGonigal, was arrested and is being investigated in the United States of America, among other things, for having received 225 thousand dollars from a former employee of the secret services of Albania and has held a series of unreported meetings in Albania, including with Prime Minister Rama. The case caused a series of protests from the opposition, whose representatives accused Prime Minister Rama of having bribed the senior FBI official.
It remains to be seen the impact that the “McGonigal scandal” will have on the electorate, but what is worth underlining is that, once again, Albania, a country with a hybrid democracy for which the U.S. State Department has spent millions of dollars to fight corruption, was mentioned in an investigative file where one of the top leaders of the FBI is being investigated, among other things, for corruption.
The article was published in the regional platform Okruzenje