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Prime Minister Resignsthe Problems Remain
World Press Review Albania Correspondent
Feb. 14, 2002
More than 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Albania's
fledgling democracy and capitalist economy are clearly not working.
On Jan. 29, after a long, public, and acrimonious power struggle
within the Albanian government, Albanian prime minister Ilir
Meta resigned, leaving the ruling Socialist Party, and therefore
Albania's government, split into warring factions. But as the
politicians bicker, bankers complain that the instability is
scaring foreign investors off at a time when the country needs
all the foreign capital it can get. Foreign investors already
had reason to be wary: bribery and graft had already inflated
the cost of doing business in Albania. In recent weeks, Albania's
power grid has been strained past its breaking point. Restrictions
on electricity consumption and blackouts paralyze business for
20 hours a day. Many fear that if these problems are not resolved
quickly, the country's government may face a total collapse.
days: Ilir Meta throws flowers to supporters in Tirana,
June 22, 2001 (Photo: AFP).
On Feb. 1, The International Monetary Fund informed Albanian
officials that it has postponed a meeting to approve a US$30
million aid package until the current power struggle is resolved.
In a separate development, the World Bank warned that US$70
million earmarked for three development projects could be held
up if the government fails to keep up its commitments to the
Stepping into this minefield is Albania's new prime minister,
Pandeli Majko, who assumed the post for the second time on Feb.
6, 2002, having previously occupied it between 1998 and 1999.
Majko now faces the formidable task of trying to stitch Albania
together again. Meta, his predecessor, had resigned after the
latter failed to resolve a four-month feud with Fatos Nano,
the chairman of Meta's own Socialist Party (SP), whom he accused
of undermining his government because of a personal vendetta.
Speaking to journalists after his appointment, Majko said his
"principal priorities are the presidential elections [scheduled
for an as-yet undetermined date in 2002], the preparation for
the integration into the European Union, and NATO membership."
Meta's relationship with Nano began to show signs of strain
soon after the Socialists won a second term of office in the
June 24, 2001, general elections. Nano, whose position gives
him virtually no formal authority in the government but does
make him an indispensable power broker, actively sought Meta's
support in his bid for the presidency. Meta refused. Perhaps
he calculated that Nanowho has twice been prime minister,
most recently fleeing to Macedonia when, in September 1998,
armed opposition forces rose against his governmentwould
be an unpopular choice.
In any case, Meta miscalculated. Without the support of the
party chairman, Meta's government was crippled. Though he did
restore order and improve Albania's neglected roads, without
the support of his party, he found he could get little else
"I present my resignation from the high post of the premier
because of the destructive pressure and the unacceptable situation
created by the SP chairman, Fatos Nano, and his followers,"
the 32-year-old Meta told journalists in Tirana on the day of
his resignation. Meta expressed concern that Nano's decision
to run for president would isolate the country and would jeopardize
March talks on an association and stabilization agreement with
the European Union. "I cannot vote for closing down Albania's
integration and putting the country in quarantine," he
Nano had criticized Meta for governing with "fascist methods,"
and last December accused four of his ministers of abusing their
powers. The ministers said they were innocent but agreed to
step down for the sake, they said, of stability. It was after
Nano loyalists blocked the appointment of their replacements
that Meta resigned. According to Meta, Nano made approval of
their replacements conditional on Meta's support for Nano's
Map: Hammond Atlas
Meta had other reasons to despair. Whether or not he was manacled
by his clashes with Nano, he had been spectacularly unsuccessful,
and few mourned his passing from the political stage. The Albanian
news media passed harsh sentence against Meta's legacy: He left
Albania in a state of economic crisis, compounded by the country's
worst energy crisis in decades, a drop in gross domestic product,
and widespread corruption.
Not soon enough, said Tirana's centrist daily Shekulli
in a Jan. 30 editorial titled "Delay of a Welcomed Resignation."
Shekulli's editors passed harsh judgment on his record:
charging him with manipulating the elections and ruling over
the executive with "a dark shadow." "Moreover,"
the paper's editors continued, "To plan the identification
of the number one of the government with that of the party,
to buy the press, to defend corruption, to keep the country
mired in an energy crisis… to do each of these things is to
throw a snow ball that will turn into avalanche."
In its Jan. 30 editorial, Albania, an independent Tirana
newspaper with a right-wing slant, also praised Meta for stepping
down, saying that the move would be "a fatal blow for Nano."
Albania allowed that Meta had been a capable administrator,
but that he had wasted too much time shoring up his personal
power. Tirana's Korrieri (independent) agreed: by resigning,
Meta had "jumped out of the hot seat" and put Nano
there instead, the paper's editors wrote on Jan. 30.
Albania's political elite echoed the press' praise for Meta's
decision. Vasil Melo, chairman of the Union for Human Rights,
an ally of the SP, said Meta should have resigned before. "There
was no need to lose a month and a half's time to reach the present
critical condition," he told reporters on Jan. 29. Ekrem
Spahia, chairman of the Legality Movement, an opposition party
in the Albanian parliament, blamed Meta's resignation on "the
[SP's] unsuccessful economic and social policies, and on the
fierce fight for power within the clans of the left-wing majority.
We think that after this act, [Parliament] should assemble to
discuss ways of getting the country out of this serious crisis
the SP and its allies have created."
In its Jan. 31 editorial, Korrieri agreed, but rightly
worried about the enormity of the task: "What should the
government do to ensure that the state administration does not
employ only those who want housing credits, those who want to
steal, or those who felt themselves unable to work in the private
sector? What law should Parliament endorse to rid the word 'tender'
of its negative connotation? What laws and steps should be taken
to fight corruption? What laws should the Parliament approve
to cut off the dishonest relations between business and politics?"