Albania's Changed Political Landscape

Newspapers Albania
The Albanian press has generally welcomed news of a new coalition government (Photo: AFP).

On June 24, Albania's parliament elected 73-year-old Alfred Moisiu as the country's first coalition president, hoping that his election would curb the country's ruinous political squabbling. Moisiu, a retired general, was the only name submitted to the 140-member chamber by a group of 40 MPs from four of the biggest parliamentary parties, but mainly from the ruling Socialists.

The election breaks a political logjam over the presidential appointment. After the June 2001 parliamentary elections, all the parties fell short of the 60 percent of parliamentary seats required to impose their own candidate as president. The decision to put forward a single candidate for the election was made under international pressure in response to chronic political infighting that had left Albania in a political deadlock. The European Parliament had appealed, through Member of the European Parliament Doris Pack, for the Albanian Parliament to elect a nonpartisan president who could focus on working for reconciliation.

The agreement between the ruling Socialists and the opposition Democratic Party, reached after long and intensive talks, and climaxing with the election of the new president, has raised hopes that a period of divisive and sometimes violent politics may be ending.

“The agreement achieved at the conference table is the beginning of a new epoch in Albania’s political development,” read an editorial in the independent conservative daily Albania (June 27). “The Socialist Party and the Democratic Party have promised a different politics, a politics of collaboration.”

However, many speculated that Fatos Nano, the leader of the ruling Socialist Party, and Sali Berisha, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, were the biggest winners of the presidential deal. Nano and Berisha, who met at the conference table for the first time in a decade, gained political capital by delivering the compromise candidate and recusing themselves from the race.

Albania emerged from more than 40 years of isolationist, communist rule in 1992, with Berisha as its first elected president. The country descended into anarchy in 1997 when a pyramid investment scheme collapsed, forcing Berisha to resign. Nano, who was jailed for four years on an embezzlement charge under Berisha’s hardline regime, emerged as Prime Minister in 1997 but gave way to fellow Socialist Ilir Meta one year later after fleeing an attempted coup by Berisha’s supporters.

A decade of friction between the Socialist Party and the Democratic Party has delayed Albania's transition to a market economy and postponed its admission to key European institutions. Stabilization and Association Agreement negotiations with the European Union were recently postponed from June to September. The International Monetary Fund had also put back the signing of a three-year agreement and some World Bank funds have been withheld.

In a June 24 editorial, Tirana’s independent daily Koha Jone hailed the agreement reached between the Socialists and Democrats, and quoted democratic leader Sali Berisha’s apparent mea culpa: “We are trying to make radical changes and to conclude a process which reflects the consciousness of what we have not properly done in the past, in order to do it much better in the future.” The paper praised his diffidence. ''Berisha,” Koha Jone’s editors wrote, “admitted the political parties’ past mistakes, by actually criticizing himself…. Apparently the rough political war between the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party has ended, being replaced by talks and tables."

But Shekulli, an independent centrist daily published in Tirana, had a different view of the contributions made by Nano and Berisha in reaching the agreement. In its June 24 editorial, the paper stressed: "These two characters [Nano and Berisha] have neither the morals, the honesty, the vision or the right to control such a process down to the smallest details... Such a collaboration between former adversaries transformed into a collaboration between close friends, should not be allowed to direct the locomotive of the Albanian political developments in conformity to their caprices."

On June 25, the same newspaper proposed that the great winners of the latest pact were Nano and Berisha, "who, henceforth, are going to be the senior figures in the new political landscape, just as they have been dominating the scene through these conflict-filled years. Nano and Berisha have already boosted their images in the eyes of the international community and the general public," wrote Shekulli.

For the independent conservative daily Albania, the agreement between Nano and Berisha was a cause for optimism: "The Socialist Party and the Democratic Party have promised a different politics, a politics of collaboration,” wrote the paper’s editorialist (June 27). “Meanwhile, within their ranks a rough and humiliating war has started against everyone who criticizes the agreement. The first SP victims are expected to be its allies and especially the Social Democrat Party, led by Skender Gjinushi. Because they were against the agreement, they have been excluded from the talks between the majority and the opposition, and now they are being threatened with removal from the government."

Other papers wondered how the agreement would impact the issue of early parliamentary elections. "The question of elections has apparently turned into a new object of political speculation," wrote the daily Tema, which is aligned with the Democratic Party (June 27). The paper predicted that the choice of Moisiu by all parties would assure a greater acceptance of the result of future elections, “not because of the fact that Moisiu is the head of state, but because certain mechanisms have been created by the head of the state in order not to allow vote stealing.”

Meanwhile, Albania's new elected president has promised that he will use all the powers within his reach to serve the country and its people, and that his first objective would be to hasten the country's integration into the European Union and NATO.

But some observers in Albania have expressed fears that the political horse-trading has delivered a puppet president. Others have openly questioned Moisiu's competence.

"Is Alfred Moisiu the person necessary to the country in such a political situation? Does he transmit the new wind of political, economic, and social developments blowing in Albania?" wondered the Tirana independent daily Korrieri (June 25). The editorial went on to question if Moisiu "will be a true President, with a concrete role and competence…or will lack of engagement and his inexperience in politics put him in the middle of a crossfire between the feuding leaders of the Albanian parties?"

On the question of Moisiu's ability to fulfill the important duty of head of the Albanian state, Deputy Chairman of the Reformed Democrat Party (RDP) Tritan Shehu told Albania (June 28) that "there will be difficulties for [Moisiu] because of his lack of active political experience. The question is whether he will get involved in political life or stay out of it." On that question, Shehu had some words of advice for the new president: “If Moisiu stays out of Albanian politics, he won't be able to fulfill his duty."