Albania again

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.

6 thoughts on “Albania again

  1. @John
    Yes, it is very probable that without the Socialists’ split Berisha wouldn’t have won. There is a peculiar characteristic of many Albanians to vote for one side for life. I.e. socialist voters would have only voted for the left and would have had a corrupt government rather than trusted the right-wing parties, be it with or without Berisha. It becomes almost a moral issue. Due to the split, many people felt no remorse in voting for Meta (who created the other left-wing party, the Socialist Movement for Integration). Because of this, the votes of the left were split and the left would have won if it had been united. Now Nano’s and Meta’s votes do not add up to a greater amount than Berisha’s.
    These elections were considered another step forward towards “completely fair elections” as compared to the ones 4 years ago. Although not perfect, it doesn’t seem that the irregularities affected the general result. Before and during the elections the Democrats complained about irregularities in lists etc., while the Socialists started complaining only in those areas where they lost after the results were made public by the Central Elections Committee. Keeping in mind that they were in government and had control over the situation (certainly more than Berisha’s opposition did) their complaints about irregularities seem absurd.
    Berisha’s entourage has indeed changed, but it remains to be seen to what extent. There have been new structures with relatively young intellectuals who have studied abroad. They seemed to have a central role during the campaign, but it is not yet clear what role will they have in the new government. The Socialists also accuse them of being unable of exerting any influence over him. Instead, goes the argument, they have been changed in Berisha’s image. We’ll see…

    @Doug
    “peaceful democratic transition of power in a predominantly Muslim country. Alas, it doesn?t look like Albania is quite there yet? ”
    As commented in your previous post, t, it doesn?t look like Albania is quite there yet? This statement hardly makes justice to the facts as Albania is not what is traditionally called a Muslim country and overall the change of power seems to have been the will of the people, although perhaps not in these exact numbers (which could have been higher on either side).

    “Meanwhile, it?s unclear what policies Berisha will pursue. Despite the ?Socialist? label of his party…”
    I think you are confusing the two parties here . Berisha is the Democrats’ leader.

  2. OT but there is something happening on the Tube again – 3 stations evacuated – Warren Street, Oval, Shepherds Bush – smoke reported at Warren St

  3. John, the split seems to have hurt Nano, but not as much as predictors thought it might. Meta’s party will not be the swing vote/kingmaker.

    Bardhi — you’re right about confusing the parties. (Not for the first time, either… see my earlier posts on Albania. Darn it.) I just fixed this.

    The issue of Albania’s “Muslimness” is an interesting one. Certainly it’s a very relaxed, beer-drinking, pork-eating, tolerant kind of Islam. (For all of Albania’s problems, it hasn’t yet had serious sectarian divisions.) Still, it is a country where a majority of the people self-identify as Muslim, so I think it qualifies.

    Maybe I should have been more clear: these elections were okay. But I was hoping for something more than okay… something that could be held up as a role model, and that would seriously advance Albania’s chances for EU integration. I don’t think these elections qualify. The outcome could have been much worse, but it could have been better too.

    I’m piling more blame on Nano’s head with every day that passes, BTW. He should have conceded weeks ago, and his condescending rhetoric about “the claimant to the office of the Premier” is not doing him or the country any good.

    Doug M.

  4. I agree with you Doug, it would have been much better if the elections completely met the standards. However, Albania is still ages away from European integration. Life standards outside of Tirana, while not that good in themselves, are incomparably better than in some small cities and all rural areas.

    The main problem with integration is and has always been the governments’ passivity, corruption and sometimes catastrophic strategies, regardless who was in power. There was an amazing support for Berisha in the first half of the 1990s and much chould have been achieved. Instead, chaotic ideas such as reconstruction from the level zero and the idea of a “carte blanche” were introduced (interestingly by a returning member of the DP, Gramoz Pashko, who btw was not elected for the Parliament).

    Hopefully, if the victory is a close call as it seems, the Democrats will feel the pressure to do better and give more space to the young members, at least as much space as was given to them during the campaign.

    An unrelated but interesting fact is that if things do not worsen, this could be the first peaceful transition of power in Albania. Last time sides were switched was in 1997, with the pyramid schemes collapse and the anarchy that followed. Before that, the DP won power from the SP after the anti-communist revolution of 1991. Going back to 1945, a World War had occured. Before that, King Zog seized power from the Democratic Government of Fan Noli, who had in his turn gained power with a revolution… and so on to the Ottoman Empire and before that. A more peaceful transition will hopefully come this time, which should set a good precedent.

  5. @Doug’s comment to Bardhi: Regarding the split of the left vote- I did a count based on intermediate results from the Central Electoral Commission, and found that the votes for Nano and Meta combined would have handed them the majority over Berisha-candidates in 9 direct seats – enough to swing the overall result in their favour (see here and these conclusions). I agree that Nano’s refusal to accept defeat is disappointing.

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