Former Prime Minister Sali Berisha won a surprise upset victory in the Albanian elections earlier this month.
This is not particularly welcome news for anyone outside of Albania. Berisha, who was Albania’s chief executive from 1990 to 1997, is remembered as a corrupt and erratic authoritarian who ran a government of cronies, best remembered for the “Pyramid” crisis of 1997 that left Albania in anarchy with hundreds dead.
Inside Albania, however, Berisha has been cultivating an image as a repentant reformer. He’s been aided in this by widespread dissatisfaction with the Fatos Nano government, which was seen as extravagantly corrupt and increasingly isolated from the concerns of ordinary Albanians.
The elections themselves were, unfortunately, disappointing. Although the votes seem to have been counted more-or-less fairly, there were a lot of minor irregularities — bad voter lists, possible episodes of multiple voting. Vote-buying seems to have been widespread. There were numerous episodes of violence, and at least one person was killed.
And PM Nano, though he has clearly lost, is refusing to go peacefully — he’s contesting more than twenty individual elections, and threatening to tie up the transition for weeks or months. Typical quote: “Today, the claimant to the office of the Premier showed his impatience. He asked from me, the legitimate Premier of Albania, to recognize the result of elections. But the claimant to the position of the premier does not understand that the premier of his country should behave as a European and cannot recognise a result that the claimant has had in his mind since 1992…” That was the day before yesterday, two weeks after the election, and long after pretty much everyone has conceded Berisha the victory.
Unfortunately, this is consistent with Albanian politics, which tend to be zero-sum, deeply embittered, and fought to the last man standing. There was some hope that Albania might have evolved beyond this, but in retrospect this was probably wishful thinking… or at least premature, given the personalities and histories of Nano and Berisha. It now looks like Nano will cling to power until at least July 27 (when the Election Commission issues its final report) and possibly longer, if the court cases continue to drag on.
In my last post, I said that this election could serve as an example of the peaceful democratic transition of power in a predominantly Muslim country. Alas, it doesn’t look like Albania is quite there yet… while they’ve managed a mostly peaceful transfer of power, it’s still not exactly a role model. Maybe in another four years.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what policies Berisha will pursue. He supports lower taxes and has already said he plans to cut taxes in office. As to foreign relations, there’ll probably be a move away from Greece (Nano’s government was relatively friendly to Greece, to the point that many Albanians accused him of being in Greek pay), but otherwise it’s hard to say. But it’s interesting to note that, despite being notoriously truculent and stubborn, Berisha pursued a relatively moderate foreign policy in his earlier term in office. (For instance, he didn’t back Albanian separatists in Kosovo or Macedonia with anything more than rhetoric.) So, watch what he does, not what he says.