AIM: start

MON, 04 FEB 2002 23:13:47 GMT

A Compromise in the Dark

AIM Tirana, January 17, 2002

After three months of intense campaigning by Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano against his party colleague and Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta in which the cabinet was accused of corruption and buying votes, the two finally met in private and a reshuffle of the cabinet was arranged. Both of them said afterwards that the cabinet would be reshuffled in accordance with the law, not revealing any details, and most importantly, that the Albanian judiciary would be encouraged to investigate all allegations of corruption.

The Albanian prime minister said this was the only solution and a possibility for the two most prominent figures in the largest political party to divide influence and seats in Parliament. He explained away his change of heart by a desire to resolve the situation in state administration. On the other hand, it is quite clear that the calming of tension took place at a time Albania is experiencing a major energy crisis because of a very cold winter. Power cuts last up to 16 hours per day and have not only upset the population, but have paralyzed local businesses, forced foreign businessmen out of the country and caused price hikes.

The weather, however, was not the sole cause of the Socialist leader's temporary victory. In only a few days' time the public prosecutor had initiated three criminal proceedings based on his allegations. Several cabinet ministers known to be part of "the Meta camp" immediately sided with Nano, and the Albanian opposition, led by former president Sali Berisha, never ceased calling for his resignation, despite occasional attempts to make a deal with him as well. There was also mounting pressure both at home and abroad for dialogue. A group of Albanian intellectuals, including well known author Ismail Kadare, signed a harsh declaration calling on all Albanian politicians to stop bickering and find a language of compromise before negotiations with the EU on an association and stabilization agreement, which is expected to be signed in March.

The crisis in the Socialist party that resulted in the clash between the two leaders and their factions, and sparked a parliamentary crisis as well, cannot be easily understood. It all started last August at a party steering committee session held after Ilir Meta was reelected prime minister with 80 percent of the vote, when party president Nano indirectly urged party officials not to support him, although he himself had backed Meta throughout the election campaign. Meta's convincing victory had greatly affected Nano. It was rumored at the time that he was divorcing his wife, also an prominent official in the party. Two months later in a TV interview Nano said he was getting a divorce, unexpectedly announced that he would run for president, and spoke of a moral crisis in the party he was leading. His campaign against the cabinet followed, in which he accused this body and sometimes indirectly the prime minister as well of corruption, saying that the party needed a catharsis and to establish new rules of the game. His campaign, which was accepted rather well by the opposition and the general public alike, ended in the marathon steering committee meeting, forcing three ministers close to Meta to resign.

The struggle was then transferred into Parliament, where Nano, together with a group of supporters and assisted by the opposition's abstention, twice boycotted efforts to elect new ministers proposed by the prime minister, also giving the Albanian president a hard time -- not knowing what to do he had to ask the Constitutional Court for advice. Almost immediately the Socialist leader, as opposed to the prime minister who demanded that a special party congress be convened, called for a referendum inside the party to give over 100,000 members the opportunity to say who should run for president. This was Nano's very clear answer to voices from abroad urging him not to run for president.

Such action on the part of top Socialist party officials has confused not only the international commun ity, which at no point supported Nano, but the Albanian opposition as well, which in the past decade continuously targeted him. For the fist time since the introduction of the multi-party system Albanians had a chance to see former president Berisha, Nano's arch enemy, extending support to the Socialist president, admitting that the Albanian political scene had been divided into three factions. Berisha also hinted he was ready to enter Parliament which he had boycotted since the elections, whose results he never accepted (and which were contested both at home and abroad). At the beginning of the year, the Socialist leader publicly said he was willing to shake hands with his arch enemy, even before Jan. 24, 2002. This was the date when the European Parliament's Foreign Committee was to debate numerous problems in Albania, including the latest elections for the Albanian Parliament.

Prime Minister Meta was not slow in getting closer to the opposition himself. He accepted a package of bills proposed by the Democratic party tackling corruption and called for cooperation for the sake of not delaying the association agreement with the EU. The opposition praised his move, but failed to clearly indicate with which of the two Socialist party factions it was willing to cooperate.

And while the Socialist leader appears resolved to pursue the presidency, even publicly alleging his readiness to change the constitution to provide for the president to be elected by popular vote, to the surprise of both the Albanian and international public, Berisha said that neither he nor Nano should run for president, not because of a lack support but because they could not ensure consensus. Berisha's position is in accordance with what international diplomats in Tirana believe. It seems that both Berisha and the opposition now have the same goal: to create a broad cabinet to organize early elections.

Meanwhile the greatest unresolved issues are still inside the Socialist party. Fear of disappointment, of a so-called Nano Revolution, is greater than ever. Many analysts suspect that the Socialist leader's ambition for a cleansing or fighting corruption will end the minute he becomes president. After the arranged agreement between him and Meta on reshuffling the cabinet the question is whether the Albanian prime minister is capable of leading a cabinet whose ministers were selected by Nano. One could also ask whether the referendum mentioned by Nano will be held to bring him closer to the office of president or to augment his power as party president. The public, furthermore, does not know whether the Socialists will act as one or two parties in Parliament. Will there be early elections? And in addition, rumor has it that the Albanian prime minister is getting ready to resign.

Having all this in view it is clear that Albanian politics is producing more events than the journalists and Albanian people can consume, especially when the lights are out.

Andi Bejtja