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Just for a short time it seemed as if we were making progress. While the two main parties, the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the opposition Socialist Party under Edi Rama, were not able to reach an agreement on the date of the local elections, both had indicated that they would accept the decision of the President, Alfred Moisiu. The President subsequently announced that the elections would be held on Saturday 20 January.

Yet this week the process fell apart once again. On Monday, the Socialist Party's National Assembly met and decided to boycott the elections. The Party claimed that, in the absence of reform of the electoral role, it would be impossible to hold free and fair elections, and called on the government to postpone the elections in order to accomplish the necessary reforms.

According to the International Herald Tribune, the Socialist Party also accused the government of distributing fake birth certificates - used for identification purposes - which would allow for multiple voting. Needless to say the government dismissed the accusation.

In one particularly controversial claim, Edi Rama asserted during his National Assembly presentation, that “the postponement of elections has never been our objective…It has been a proposal by international partners.”

Rama's claim was immediately disputed. Local daily Korrieri reported the response from the US Embassy: "The U.S. Government has not asked for the postponement of elections. We stick to our earlier statement of encouraging the parties to work together for free and fair elections."

The EU also disputed the claim. Korrieri reported a television interview with Enlargement Commissioner Ollie Rehn who said "boycotting the Parliament or elections is not a democratic way of running politics. Therefore, I would discourage boycott as long as international standards are observed."

'As long as' is, of course, the key phrase here. It is precisely the question of whether international standards are being observed with regard to the credibility of the electoral role that is at issue.

It is not at all clear how this matter can be resolved. The EU has made clear that it is not prepared to get involved in trying to resolve this problem. Following a regular meeting between EU and Albanian officials yesterday the European Commission's Delegation to Albania issued a press release which asserted that "all Albania’s political leaders bear a responsibility to its citizens for the conduct of the local elections. Political leaders should not expect the international community to arbitrate among them."

Yet given the bad blood between the parties and the conflict and controversy that has been a hallmark of recent politics it is hard to see how they can sort this out among themselves. If the elections go ahead and the opposition parties boycott them, it is inevitable that the credibility of the elections will be damaged.

It is also inevitable that the Albanian people as a whole will lose out. The absence of a credible opposition in municipalities will be bad for political accountability, and the failure to hold credible elections will have an impact on the assessment of Albania's readiness for membership of NATO and the EU.

Albania's confrontational politics militates against the possibility of compromise. But the best way out might be for one side or the other to demonstrate some self-interested magnanimity.

Prime Minister Berisha could agree to change the law to allow for the postponement of the elections, even though legally there is no requirement to do so. Such a gesture would undoubtedly lead to increasing pressure on the socialists also to be magnanimous.

Alternatively, Chairman Rama could be magnanimous and agree to go ahead with the elections, reluctantly and under protest. This would increase pressure on the Prime Minister and the government to address the issue of the electoral role and other outstanding matters.

There may well be a danger of abuses in the forthcoming elections. But these elections are going to be thoroughly scrutinised and observed, and any serious abuses will be uncovered. If the election is not declared free and fair, meeting international standards, the Socialist Party will have all the leverage it needs to demand reform.


Anonymous said…
According to the constitution, 21 of Jan is the last date allowed to hold the local elections. PD and PS have had plenty of time to reform the electoral process and they actually signed an agreement in August, but PS later said they wanted another agreement, and presented some 40 other conditions, which PD agreed to, but somehow the new agreement didn't go thru. Clearly, PS have been trying to find any excuse to postpone the elections. They don't want them to be held in winter time, because they hold the majority in the local governments, and they fear they will loose badly. Difficult conditions during winter time, might make people even more irritable with incompetent local governments. Rama (PS) wants badly to win these elections, because they are his first as a head of the party and he needs to be reconfirmed as a leader that can bring results, otherwise he'll be out of politics altogether. On the other hand, Berisha (PD) wants badly to win these elections too, so he can have the legitimacy going into the election of the president later in 2007 or 2008, since he doesn't have a clear majority to elect the president in the parliament. And the Socialists have threatened that if the Parliament deadlocks during the election of the President they will call new general elections, and this was their strategy for an early exit of Berisha. Complicated? Mind-boggling politicking? You bet. So much so, that it got even EU politicians confused, that they don't know which side to take now.

But this is not a laughing matter. Not pending any near decision on EU or NATO, politicians on both sides see no reason to play nice, so the situation will get far worse before things settle down. PS might boycott the elections or pull out of parliament, and no one knows for sure how far things might go. Also, to add some superstition, years ending with a 7 are not good years in Albanian politics. Remember, the "pyramid scheeme uprisings", also happened during the first months of 1997.

Alwyn, do you have any contingency plans for getting out of the country quickly, in case things degenrate to that point?
Ll.T. said…
Wow Dritan, your predictions are as dark as they can be. How about this new prediction; the SP keeps playing coy for a little bit longer, the foreigners put the squeeze on the DP and the DP "agrees" to postpone elections but not to May or later as the SP wants but to March. Everybody is happy and content, the elections play out, there are the few usual complaints but nothing too big.

As for a repeat of 1997; you'd have to be blind not to see Berisha's change since he came to power (cozying up to the Greeks, Americans, anybody and everybody) and I'd say that he won't fall for it again. So breathe man, breathe....
Anonymous said…
Llukan, I can breethe freely since I'm comfortably in the US, but I worry for you guys that will have to fight for a spot in the evacuation helicopters at the American Embassy. But I hope things turn out as you predict, actually I hope things will be so smooth that we all can have a good laugh later on, at the silliness of this whole situation. But please keep in mind two things.

First, 1997 started in 1996, ie, that crisis had the roots in the contested local elections of the summer of 1996. Those elections hightened the tensions between two parties, to the point where only a spark was needed to start the fire. The pyramids were that spark, and actually no one would have ever thought in 1996, that such a minor thing as the pyramid scheemes would turn out to be an issue to overthrow the govt, let alone start a civil war if not chaos. But when wars in Yu ended, so did the embargo-breaking profits that had kept the pyramids floating, at which point they run their normal course and hit the ground by the end of 1996. So the spark happened at the same time when the room was full of exploding fuel. Right now, we are still at the phase when the room is being filled with explosives. The spark could be any of a number of minor issues lingering out there.

Second, it appears to me that Berisha is trying very hard to keep on smiling, even in the face of what he might consider repeated nasty provocations. But inside he must be boiling, to get his hands at a few of those pretty boys of the SP. And when things start to spiral, he hasn't really proven to be of the kind that maintains his cool. A few things might change, but character I'm affraid is not one of those. But, we shall wait and see.
Ll.T. said…
Dritan, I lived through '97 without lining up in front of the US Embassy and I think I'll be just fine again. Thanks for your concern though, it is "heartwarming" to know that you worry about your fellow countrymen.

As for the comparison between '97 and '07, it is needless to say that it has no ground to stand on because:

1) In '96 the DP controlled everything and was not afraid to go against anybody. Today, well as you must know, kush digjet nga qulli i fryn edhe kosit, so the DP is certainly in no mood to risk 8+ years without power (i.e. money, privileges etc).

2) There are no pyramids that would cause great and widespread financial losses to a great percentage of the population.

3) The neighbors are either not powerful enough (Serbia) or not interested in getting rid of the DP (like Greece was back in '97).

4) Berisha is not uncontested in Kuvend and has to deal with his allies who because of the messy electoral system control a nice chunk of the votes he needs.

I'm happy that you're in the US and that you do not intend to return because your defeatist attitude is aggravating and despicable.
Anonymous said…
"I'm happy that you're in the US and that you do not intend to return because your defeatist attitude is aggravating and despicable."

LOL, ok Llukan, so be it! My defeatism won't kill anyone, and I don't see the point of any debate, if you're only willing to see the rosy picture. But why do I sense some anxiety in your tone, is it that you too have the same fears in the back of your mind? What comments I leave in Alwyn's blog won't change a thing in real life, but I honestly hope SP by tomorrow will decide to participate in the elections, just like they have been changing their mind in the past week: one day yes, one day no, like spoiled little brats.

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