I spent the week leading up to the elections travelling the length of the country, trying (and often failing) to make sense of Albanian democracy. What were people fighting for in these elections? Was there some great ideological battle taking place? It was a question that would echo in my mind for the duration of my trip because it seemed to me there ought to be one.
Back home in England, people have been saying for a thousand years that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Walking across Tirana in the run-up to this year’s municipal elections I noticed someone had tied a handful of horses up on the riverbank. It was a hot day but none of them were drinking. According to a 2012 report, the chemical contents of all three rivers running through Albania’s capital are “so extremely bad” that “they all represent an everyday risk for the [sic] human health.” Smart horses.
Democracy has a short history in Albania. The first multiparty elections were held in 1991 and enjoyed a 98.9 percent participation rate. That number has been steadily falling ever since. When the polling stations closed on June 21 this year, just 47.8 percent of eligible Albanian voters turned out to elect new mayors and municipal councillors. I spent the week leading up to the elections travelling the length of the country, trying (and often failing) to make sense of Albanian democracy. So, what does the low turnout mean? Smart horses.
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