AIM: start



SAT, 23 JUN 2001 12:01:34 GMT

PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN ALBANIA: A MISSION POSSIBLE ?!

AIM TIRANA, 21 June 2001

There is no public opinion poll to predict the outcome of the Parliamentary elections to take place in Albania on June 24. But the Albanians are going towards the voting booths in the most tranquil election campaign during the last ten-years of post communist decade. The way elections are organized and the acceptance or not, of the final result, as a matter of fact, is more important than the name of the winner.

Surprises like the elections in Bulgaria last week are not expected in Albania. The Albanian political scene is totally dominated by the ruling Socialist party, chaired by ex-Premier Fatos Nano and the opposition Democratic Party led by ex-President Sali Berisha. The small parties are not expected to play an important role, while a third serious political force, which could administrate the votes of the undecided people is missing.

But the Sunday's elections seems to put an end for the first time to the 2/3 "hegemony", which was present in Albania during the last decade. During all four Parliamentary elections, the winner had under his control 2/3 of the seats in Parliament.

By heading for the tenth time at the voting booths during the ten years of political pluralism (besides four Parliamentary elections, three local elections and two referendums on the Constitution, without counting here the referendum on choosing the form of regime carried out four years ago on the same time with the General elections) Albanians have broken all records. Based on this, the rumor goes "if baseball is the national sport for the Americans, elections. are for the Albanians"

The Sunday's elections shouldn't be a vote of protest or a vote against, as it routinely has happened in Albania. The public is tired and disappointed by politics and indifference prevails over protest. This can lead to a lower turn out than usually, but not less than 60 percent. It seems that the Albanians for the first time will use their vote to choose between two main alternatives and not to conduct a referendum against or in favor of a person. Four years ago during the June 1997 elections, after the crisis of the pyramid investments scheme, indeed elections consisted of a referendum in favor or against the conservative President Sali Berisha.

Berisha has managed to reemerge politically and aims a return to power. After losing the October 2000 local elections, Berisha is applying what he calls the policy of "the new start", greatly moderating his political vocabulary and appealing on the his party dissidents to came back.

Despites the less-aggressive tones of his campaign, the ex President has not made clear yet how he will handle the outcome of the elections in case he losses them. In an interview given to BBC, Berisha said that he would not accept any outcome, which would come out from the rigged elections and accused the Government for manipulating the voters' lists.

Berisha has created a broader coalition of right wing forces, where Republicans and monarchists are included too. After the elections he has left the cooperation door open also for the Democratic Alliance Party, which is made up by his former opponents, and with the Human Rights Party, which represents the interests of the Greek minority. If Berisha wins, he has to face with the internal and external skepticism regarding his democratic credentials.

On the other hand the socialists have based their campaign on cutting ribbons for new telephone facilities and road segments in the Albanian countryside, without forgetting the anit-Berisha carte. The Premier Meta during a meeting in Shkodra town, one of the strongholds of democrats, warned that "the time of carton state is over and hands will be cut off to everybody who attempts to touch the people's vote".

Meta managed to accomplish an important success a few days ago, when the Gothenburg Summit decided to open up negotiations for the Association and Stabilization Agreement between Albania and the European Union.

The socialists have unfolded their objectives alongside with their allies. They aim to gain 60 percents of votes, which would enable them to elect the President after his term expires in year 2002. This seem to be a difficult objective to accomplish, especially if we take into consideration the fact that they are going alone, after they failed in their attempts to create an pre- election coalition with their social democrats ally and the others.

But if socialists will continue to remain in power, they have to face challenge of meeting the democratic standards and not with Berisha factor, as it has happened so far. Berisha's alibi couldn't function any longer and couldn't serve as a justification during a second mandate. Independent analysts in Tirana have voiced their concern that in the future mandate a kind of soft arrogance or hidden arrogance can be strengthened at the socialist governance, a phenomenon already evident.

The question right now in Tirana is that to what extend the result of Sunday elections will influence in electing the President a year later. According to the Albania's new Constitution, the election of President requires 60 percent of votes. In case after three rounds of elections, the President is not elected yet, then the country will be headed for pre elections. Under the conditions this 60 percent thing is considered a high steak for both main parties, and the compromise thing is still unknown in Albania, then the likelihood for the Albanians to head for the polling stations for the 11 times next year is not excluded.

Now even the names of the future Premiers are known. If the socialists will remain in power, Ilir Meta will continue to head the cabinet, which still will be a coalition within socialists, between Nanao's group and Meta's group that does not like each other and this is not a secret.

If the democrats return to power, the new Premier will be Ridvan Bode, currently Secretary general of the Democratic Party. Bode has headed for a brief period the Ministry of Finances, some months ahead of pyramid investments scheme crisis. Berisha has not made clear yet what role he will play if he wins the elections.

Whoever the winner will be, he will have the advantage that Albanian now is a country making progress at an agreeable pace, with a more consolidated stability. And whoever the winner will be he has to face the challenges of fighting corruption, illegal traffics and organized crimes.

The elections in Albania haven't attracted greatly the international attention and seem to be under the shadow, because of the Macedonian crisis. It is evident that the crisis in Macedonia, like Kosovo too, are not part of the electoral debate. Either the ruling socialists or the democrats in opposition have maintained similar attitudes towards the Macedonian crisis by adoption a moderate and carefully thought of line. While an Alliance Democratic Party statement a few weeks ago, which claimed the unification of Albanian with Kosovo was criticized by all political forces and didn't have an echo during the election campaign.

While the country seems to be less scared of disorders after the elections or from "A day after" syndrome, the possibility of not accepting the result of the elections by both sides in not excluded. If it happens, it will be the worst alternative. Albania is among few ex- communist countries, which has not surpassed the peaceful power rotation test. The losers, despite being right or wrong, have contested the previous electoral processes. Viewed from this angle, the up coming elections are considered more to be a test than common elections. A test for the Albanian democracy and stability.

REMZI LANI