Ruling Socialists Sign an Agreement to Share Power

Albania: Catharsis or Corruption?

Socialist Party Chairman Fatos Nano at last July's elections. Following the recent pact, he is widely thought to have ambitions to become Albania's premier. 
On April 9, after months of bitter in-fighting between its factions, the ruling Socialist Party (SP) in Albania formally signed an agreement to reconcile the two rival groups headed by chairman Fatos Nano and former premier Ilir Meta, thereby shoring up the base of the Socialist government.

Meta had resigned on Jan. 29 after a long, public, and acrimonious power struggle which left the ruling Socialist Party split into warring factions. The rift between Meta and Nano became evident shortly after the Socialists secured a second term in office by winning general elections in June 24, 2001, giving the party a sufficient majority to elect a new Albanian president in June 2002. Nano, who had been left virtually powerless within the party structure, was trying to win Meta's support for the presidency. Meta refused to endorse a presidential bid by Nano, believing that as president, Nano would have too much power and would be able to control the government.

The conflict within the SP has added to the general sense of disillusionment in Albania following the 2001 general elections, which were considered highly flawed by the Albanian opposition as well as by independent analysts. It has led to a crisis in Albanian politics, in which the government is regarded with skepticism by the majority of the population.

A country most recently driven by the politics of survival, Albania has seen its state institutions falter as few able candidates have emerged to lead the country. The international community and the Albanian opposition support the idea of a coalition non-Socialist president, who they believe would curb corruption in state institutions.

In this climate, the agreement signed on April 9 has been considered by most people as a positive step toward easing Albania’s tense political situation, with only the opposition being suspicious about its goals.

The pact says that the president, due to be elected this June, will be a coalition figure as much as possible, but will be proposed by the SP. An extraordinary congress could be held after a referendum by party members to decide the candidate. The document called for "full support of the government of premier Pandeli Majko in accomplishing the priorities of this program." Its most controversial points relate to the election of the new president: Nano said his party had distinguished candidates but declined to be drawn on whether he still intended to present his candidacy. [On April 15, Socialist party members agreed to hold a referendum on whether to amend the constitutional requirements regarding the president's election--WPR.]

The opposition, however, called the April 9 agreement a “false peace” between Nano’s and Meta’s groups. The chairman of the Democratic Party (DP), Sali Berisha, leader of the opposition coalition the Union for Victory (UfV) said that in his view, the fundamental goal of both sides was to win time since the factions could not reconcile their different aims, and warned that Premier Pandeli Majko might be “the victim of the deal as he was not a party to it.”

Suspicious about the goals of such a pact, the Albanian press has criticized the agreement as well.

The independent Tirana daily Gazeta Shqiptare noted in its April 5 editorial "Secret Scheme of the Political Pact in the SP” that the Socialists have been involved in bargains to bring new leaders to the high posts belonging to the Socialists. "This is a time of bargains for the Socialist party," the paper wrote. "After the pact to support Nano for the post of the president of the republic, a hot race has been embarked upon for all the other high posts belonging to the Socialists. Meta's followers said that the ex-premier is not going to fight only for the post of SP chairman but even for that of premier."

The latest Socialist peace was “a step backward in the overall debate that had recently guided Albanian politics toward fairness and genuine political compromises,” commented the other Tirana independent daily Dita. (April 4). In an editorial titled "Temporary Peace, a Step Backward" the paper said that the competing Socialist factions hadn’t reached any agreement on how to fight corruption, organized crime, and drug trafficking, but rather had postponed fulfilling conditions set by the EU and US for the elimination of this traffic. The paper went on to say that the election of the coalition president would delay Albania’s integration to EU.

The same daily said in its editorial of April 10 that the political pact in the SP shows that bitter enemies can reach a temporary peace for the sake of reaping profits from power. “In other words,” added the paper, “nothing has been gained, except that everyone can now take what he wants: Nano, the promise of claiming the president’s post while others stand to gain power, posts, and privileges without being concerned whether the public approves of it.”

Meanwhile, Albania has been overwhelmed by corruption and organized crime. Recent reports by various international institutions, including the U.S. Department of State, characterize the country as an expressway for the trafficking of illegal goods. Tirana politicians have traditionally promised deep reforms or an open fight against corruption. Five months ago, Socialist party chairman Nano spoke and of how to get Albania off the traffickers’ maps. In a party meeting, after he had accused Ilir Meta of having links with organized crime, Nano promised to clear the ruling leftists of corruption. But, not much time passed before Nano himself was accused of laundering US $1billion by Meta's supporters. Although they began as party squabbles, these accusations threw light on the shady practices of the politicians who have governed the country for six years.

Reviewing these events, Tema, an ally of the opposition Democratic Party, noted that the Socialist self-cleansing process had now stopped due to the pact, but crime continued. According to paper (April 8), the Socialists have decided “to walk with their heads up” after all the events shaping their party.

The pact was “a product of a political shamelessness and intolerance,” said the Tirana independent centrist daily Shekulli. In its editorial entitled " Pact in the SP, Challenge in Extremis Against Morale" (April 10) the daily went on to say that Nano, “after keeping Albania hostage for one year of his ‘sacred’ war against evil...dragged the whole political and public environment into this ‘sacred’ fight and led his party into a trap of uncertainty that he called catharsis... masterfully exploiting the sensitivity of public opinion toward corruption, thieves, and other bad things, just to return to the starting point as if nothing had happened.”

Korrieri, another independent centrist daily published in Tirana, sees the pact simply as a tactic that the two groups in the SP are using to win time. In its editorial "There is no Peace under the Olive Branch" (April 4), the paper noted that the agreement was not a concrete pact reached on the basis of a logical analysis and good faith, but simply a way of buying time temporarily.

Above all, it seems, the pact will enable the ruling party to avoid early elections in the country. Facing the bitter prospect of surrendering power in an election, Albanian Socialists have chosen an alternative: making an alliance. It is a solution that implies the reconciling of differences and a gathering “en masse” against the opposition. Evidently, the long Socialist conflict is now a closed cycle and the “old” stability seems to have been restored in the party.

In reality, the signing of the party’s “internal stability pact” will obstruct investigations that would have brought corrupt politicians and the Mafia clans behind them to justice. On April 11, SP Organizational Secretary Petro Koci announced that the fight against corruption would continue and that Meta and Nano’s pact would not impede the ongoing “catharsis” movement. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the rival sides will bargain with one another for further allotments of power, thereby bringing into power certain individuals that, in normal conditions and after a fair electoral process, would never come onto the scene.