AIM: start

WED, 23 MAY 2001 16:14:11 GMT

A New Electoral Start in Albania

AIM Tirana, 22 MAY 2001

Albania will launch the electoral campaign this week with all the parties starting their rallies, meetings, posters... hoping it will remain only with these. Albania will hold its fifth general parliamentary elections on June 24.

The electoral process until now has shown Albania is in a new turn, without violence and aggressive behaviour by the local politicians, who, hopefully, have gained some experience how to hold a peaceful and calm procedure. They surely know a violent situation in Albania would not help any government to take the country ahead, at a time when Europe is very reluctant to give a go-ahead to closer ties, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement, that was so easily accorded to Macedonia, already in first steps of a war.

In fact the real game has already started. It was the ruling Socialists of Fatos Nano who said that 35 of their candidates would run as independent ones. Opposition Democrats of Sali Berisha said all of their candidates, but the main party leaders, would do the same.

The game starts at the election law based on which with the so-called independent candidates the big parties aim at getting more seats from the proportional list.

The law is not OK but the political parties are not fair too. What else are they doing? How are they going to be introduced and present themselves this time?

While the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in the country was trying hard to relieve the tense Albanians from their previous electoral dangerous intensity, they could hardly do anything for this issue.

Much work and mediation was needed to convince both main political parties agree on reviewing once again the voters' list. Democrats repeatedly said there was an incorrect number presented in last October local elections. Socialists agreed to do that. But, of course, nothing would go so smoothly in the ever-squabbling Albanian politics. Participation of the parties' representatives at the checking commissions became a problem, and, very probably, the basis to claim the irregularity later.

The ruling Socialists broke the coalition with the four other minor allies, convinced that this time they could win enough seats and run the country alone in the future. It would not be that easy but, on the other side, returning Albania to the one-party rule again would not be good.

The research done by different sources show that the Socialists are very likely to be the winners again. But inside the party the basis of this conviction is the government. It seems that one of the strong issues of their electoral campaign will be the public order. Compared to 1997 unrest, the following unstable Albania in 1998 and the havoc in 1999 with the Kosovo war, the country is now quite calm.

Police interventions and attacks on illegal drug traffic and organized crime, reducing the immigrants flow out of the country and relatively less corruption among police ranks have given their results and returned a somewhat relative calmness among the population and the foreign investors and donors.

The governing of the Prime Minister Ilir Meta has played a strong point in this aspect. Unlike his predecessors he has shown a strong hand and the will to run Albania differently. Of course, corruption is still a great weakness and, in general, the application of the laws.

They have been the reasons why the European Union is still reluctant to sign the Association Agreement with the western Balkan country.

Though Meta has been lucky to govern at a time when the infrastructure road projects were to be completed, one should not forget that he has made time and again efforts to push foreign companies applying such projects respect the contracts. Consequently Albania has now a different road network.

Following a successful sale of the mobile telephone company AMC, the government is well spending the money to repair many streets in the main cities, something that, surely, is being done to gain electoral votes.

But Meta has earned many points in following a very moderate and western-like, or western-pleasing foreign policy referring to Kosovo and now with Macedonia, with a great ethnic Albanian population.

Meta has good relations with neighbouring Italy and Greece, two EU countries, and pushed a lot the relations with other neighbours like Montenegro, Macedonia and recently Serbia.

Meta has very good background in the relations with the United States and he has already established warm ties with the new George W. Bush's new government. It seems that Meta has learnt a lot from Berisha's mistakes.

Berisha, on his side, is also playing quite well. He has clearly understood he should change his tactics and not lose again. This time he created a broad center-right coalition. Union for Victory (the only coalition running this time), collecting besides his previous allies like the Nationalists and the Monarchists, Republicans too.

That is aimed at giving better results. This time they say they will give a "positive tendency" to the campaign. There is still much to be seen on what they are to introduce to the people.

True Albanians can hardly forget the 1997 unrest and thousands of murdered people and lost life savings. But they also have been bored by the continuous corruption and scandals from the ruling Socialists' officials. Much will depend now on both parties, or groupings, how they are going to present themselves.

It should be noted that the coalition efforts could also serve to Berisha to give some foreign allies, who recently seem to have forgotten him at all.

This time Albanians will vote differently. Their life is somewhat different, better though still there is no manufacturing and production in the Southeastern European country (everyone tries to avoid calling it the "Balkans" that could be easily followed by the expression "powder keg"). Albania officially is not considered any more as "Europe's poorest country".

Albanians are also tired and bored of the continuous promises and little results from the politicians. Following these one may say that the election turnout could be lower. No. Albanians love to vote and to hope for a different future.

For the international community the greatest achievement in the upcoming elections would probably be if the losers would accept the results.

Llazar Semini