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[ALBSA-Info] ANALYSIS-Albanian election marks start of normal politics

Gazhebo at Gazhebo at
Tue Jun 26 23:05:43 EDT 2001

ANALYSIS-Albanian election marks start of normal politics

By Richard Murphy

TIRANA, June 26 (Reuters) - Albania's peaceful and mainly orderly general 
election two days ago could mark the start of normal democratic politics 
after 10 turbulent years since the country overthrew communism. 

Albanian commentators and foreign observers say Sunday's vote, from which 
Prime Minister Ilir Meta's Socialists are set to emerge as winners, marked a 
step away from the highly polarised "winner-takes-all" politics of the past. 

No official results have so far been announced and a second round of voting 
will be held in more than 40 constituencies on July 8. But it seems certain 
the Socialists will rule with a reduced majority, with two conservative 
groups in opposition. 

"Despite the mess and confusion, politics starts today," said independent 
political commentator Remzi Lani. 

"We have a normal result for a transition democracy. This marks a new phase 
where frightening majorities are a thing of the past and there is a balance 
of political forces." 

International observers said the election, the first since the country 
plunged into a period of anarchy in 1997 during which an estimated 2,000 
people were killed, was broadly fair, despite some irregularities. 

"Political development in Albania in the last decade has been little short of 
remarkable," said Bruce George, a British member of the OSCE parliamentary 

"But we are not so naive as to conclude that clinical perfection has yet been 
achieved in this country." 

The main uncertainty is whether former President Sali Berisha, whose 
Democratic Party has alleged widespread manipulation, will accept defeat. 

Berisha boycotted parliament for much of its last four-year term, but 
diplomats say his always strident tone was noticeably less aggressive in the 
latest election campaign and they hope he will ultimately acknowledge the 


"A positive trend in this election was that the campaign was peaceful, there 
was less conflict than before and hate speeches were more absent," says Genc 
Pollo, political secretary of the New Democrat Party which looks likely to be 
the third largest group in the next parliament. 

Pollo, once a close Berisha aide, broke away from his former mentor to form a 
new grouping which he describes as Albania's only serious centre-right party. 

He detects a "new political maturity" in Albania and says the likely 
disappearance of the large majorities which made past governments "arrogant 
and abusive" is also a healthy sign. 

"I think a slim majority in parliament will make this government more 
accountable than before." 

The capital, Tirana, is relaxed and bustling and enjoying a remarkable 
construction boom. There is no trace of the tension that overshadowed the 
1997 election, when an Italian-led multinational peacekeeping force was still 
on the streets. 

Political stability at home will be critical if the government is to make 
progress in its new four-year term in stimulating the economy and tackling 
endemic corruption. 

Western diplomats say the Meta government is the most effective Albania has 
had to date and they praise his moderate stance on the crises in neighbouring 
Kosovo and Macedonia. 

The country's problems remain daunting, however. 

Although roads between some major towns have recently improved dramatically, 
infrastructure remains in a catastrophic state throughout much of Albania. 

Foreign investors are deterred by corruption, an uncertain legal framework 
and the country's lawless image, and there is a continuing brain drain of 
educated young people. 

But Meta sees signs of hope. 

Foreign direct investment last year was three times the 1999 level, he says, 
and the brain drain may be slowing. "Today people are still leaving the 
country but for the first time we also have people that are coming back," he 
told Reuters. 

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