AIM: start

MON, 04 MAR 2002 01:42:57 GMT

Castling of Posts in Albanian Labyrinth

AIM Tirana, February 17, 2002

The resignation of Prime Minister Meta after sharpening of the disagreement with Fatos Nano, President of the Socialist Party, left behind a vacuum of government in the Albanian capital. Meta's departure does not seem to have solved the long political crisis in Tirana, but further deepened it. The clash between the opposed groups within the Socialist Party in power has reached its climax and any formula of a compromise will not be for long.

After a long period of passive and defensive stand, Meta launched an offensive using the only and the last weapon he had - resignation. Despite the sharp criticism addressed against Meta, it seems that Nano had not expected the resignation of the Prime Minister.

After Meta's resignation, the race for the prime minister was won by Pandeli Majko, the current minister of defence who was forced to leave the post of the prime minister two years ago after the defeat in the race for the head of the party with the president of the Socialist Party, Nano. Majko, supported by Meta's group, won the race with Ermelinda Meksi, minister for foreign cooperation, who was supported by Nano's group, with a significant advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Majko who headed the government for a year during the crisis in Kosovo and became very popular in the country and abroad, will probably have a much more difficult time ruling in peace than two years ago during the war. Two rival groups within the Socialist Party took turns in their blocking policies and the establishment of an internal coalition was very difficult.

After much effort Majko presented his new cabinet which, although not a masterpiece of compromise, one can certainly say without risking making a big mistake, is a masterpiece of mediocrity. The Socialists seem to have decided to play their final match with spare players.

A certain number of second players, unknown to the public, got key posts in Majko's new cabinet.

A completely unknown name, Stefan Cipa, could be the new minister of public order, the key post in Albania. Former prime minister Meta who was one of the candidates for the post, withdrew after the issued ultimatum by the rivalry group that refused Meta's participation in the cabinet. Former minister of public order Ilir Gjoni does not appear in the new cabinet, it seems, due to internal disagreements.

All the portfolios linked to the economy, finance, agriculture and industries, will be controlled by Nano's group. Kastriot Islami, one of the central figures in that group, will be in charge of Albanian finances, when he replaces Anastas Angjeli who is accused of corruption scandals by Nano. Ermelinda Meksi will probably keep her post at the head of the Ministry of Foreign Cooperation.

In fact, while Prime Minister Majko is believed to be more Meta's than Nano's, the new cabinet seems to be inclined more towards Nano. Among Meta's supporters, Arta Dade managed to keep the post of foreign minister, along with a few other ministers.

The list of the new cabinet which has three portfolios less than the previous one does not include the names of minister of Euro-Atlantic integration Paskal Milo, minister of justice Sokol Nako, minister of education Ben Blushi, etc. What is striking is the departure of a certain number of persons of the younger generation and their replacement by persons from the old generation of Socialists.

The new cabinet will be a transitional cabinet which will not last for long. It is possible, of course, that he might not get the votes of both the factions, which may deepen the vacuum of power in this country.

Albanian Socialists in power cannot be considered as a single party any more. Two rival groups headed by Meta and Nano are behaving and operating as two separate parties. Sharp accusations are heard in their debate, but not ideological differences, so that it all comes down to struggle for power.

Albanian policy has entered an intricate labyrinth with a lot of unknown turns and it is difficult to anticipate anything. The governing of the country is practically blocked for months because of the long last year’s pre-election campaign, and later on of the exhausting debate within the ranks of the party in power.

Nano whose position had seemed to be very weak after the victory of Ilir Meta in the race for prime minister in the end of August, managed to recover by opening a debate about corruption in the government. However, after Meta's departure from the government, Nano won a victory that caused headache rather than content.

And while at the head of the Government the castling of names was completed, it is expected that the divided Socialist Party will now return to the political arena where Nano and Meta will clash. And while Nano still has an advantage that was in the beginning called "the moral tour" by the press that increased his popularity, Meta has the advantage because he controls the majority in party structures where significant decisions shall be made in the foreseeable future.

Meta also enjoyed significant international support not only of the USA, but also of its European partners. After his resignation he received messages from American Secretary of State Powell and British Prime Minister Blaire who expressed regret because of his resignation. New Prime Minister Majko also has the support from abroad, although in the period when he was departing two years ago, the relations with a few significant European partners, like Italy and Germany were not exactly rosy.

Berisha’s opposition demanded creation of a broadly founded government, but it is not quite clear whether it would favour the formula of a “grand coalition” or a technical government. The resignation of the Government coincided with the return of the opposition into the parliament after its long refusal to recognize the results of the criticized elections of June last year. On the other hand, the campaign of criticizing Nano has confirmed the criticism of the earlier opposition putting it into a much more favourable position than before. This makes the political scene in Albania even more interesting and less predictable.

And while Berisha and Nano were on the same wavelength in the campaign of denouncing corruption that was aimed against Meta, Berisha and Meta might unite in the efforts to prevent Nano from taking the post of the president next July if the latter still hopes to win it.

The crisis of the government seems to be a filter that links the previous election crisis with the next presidential crisis. Perhaps Albania will not have a strong government before presidential elections in the beginning of summer.

Nano seems to have had aspirations to be the president although the road to the presidency is a true labyrinth. Even if it is not a “mission impossible”, it certainly is an exceptionally difficult mission. Nano will need the consensus of his party, or more precisely of the members of parliament from his party, which seems to be utterly uncertain. What the Socialists’ president calls the catharsis of the Socialists has not brought what ancient Greeks called atharaxis – pacification. Relations are strained among the Socialists and internal animosities have increased. At the moment when Meta closed the door of the seat of the government in order to give the keys to Majko, Nano’s hopes to enter the office of the president have significantly deflated.

Running for the presidency perhaps would not have obstacles, but it would certainly be dimmed because of the lack of consensus among the opposition which declared itself in favour of a consensus president – in other words, of his being neither a Socialist, nor a Democrat, but a neutral figure from the circles of the civil society or university.

However, if the opposition was at first against Nano and later offered the formula of a consensus president, various circles in the West offered the formula of a consensus president from the very beginning that leads to the elimination of the candidacy of Nano since he is a candidate of a party.

In Western circles the election of a consensus president seems to be considered to be the magical key that would resolve several crises. On the other hand, in a way it would remove the stain from the last elections and, since it is impossible to correct the mistakes, it would offer the opposition a form of a compensation for them. It should be added, though, that diplomats in Tirana avoided to comment on the issues concerning the future president making it clear that they do not all agree with the formulas offered so far.

Current president Meidani, who was until recently considered to be the formula for a compromise at least among rival groups in the Socialist Party, has very little chance for a second term in office. The whole debate about the question of the future president is conducted as if the current president does not exist.

The election of the future president is drawing to its close, but perhaps the best solution for Albania, like for the majority of former communist countries, is to introduce the election of the president by direct voting, but preserving his limited jurisdiction. It would give the president greater authority but it would certainly prevent authoritarianism. ...

Usually when describing the conflicting nature of Albanian politics I used the term “the political ring in Tirana”, and when describing the theatrical character of politics I used the term “political scene of Tirana”. Nowadays when Albanian politics is more complicated than ever, it seems to me that the most appropriate term would be “the political labyrinth of Tirana”. All things considered, the only way out of this labyrinth will be new elections.

Remzi LANI