Back in July, I posted about the Parliamentary elections in Albania. Dedicated readers may recall that the Socialist government of PM Fatos Nano lost, and the opposition Democrats (under former PM Sali Berisha) won… but that Nano was refusing to concede defeat.
Well, he finally did. It took nearly two months, and three special runoff elections, but Nano at last conceded the election on Tuesday. Sali Berisha is now Prime Minister.
Nano did not concede gracefully. After eight weeks of stalling, having exhausted every possible option, his last speech as Prime Minister was… consistent. He accused his opponents of stealing the vote in 15 constituencies, using forged voter certificates and armed thugs, and insisted that the outcome was “politically unacceptable”. But then he said he was resigning anyway “to distance myself from electoral violence and illegitimate winners.”
(By way of comparison: the contested US presidential election of 2000 dragged on for just 36 days, not 60. And this was a much less close-run thing. By the first day after the election, pretty much every foreign observer had called it as a narrow but clear win for the opposition, and they ended up with 80 seats in the 140-member Parliament.)
Unfortunately for Albania, it looks like Nano’s actions will have consequences. Albania wants to join the EU, and has been working towards a “Stabilization and Association Agreement”. An SAA marks the beginning of the process of EU accession; once you have one, you’re on track for (eventual) membership. The Albanians had been hoping to finalize their SAA this year.
But yesterday, the Head of European Delegation in Tirana, Lutz Salzmann, said that the SAA could not possibly be signed before next year. “Many technical reasons, especially the transition and the elections,” said Salzmann, “make the signing of this agreement impossible.” He also said the EU wanted to give the new government the opportunity to “take over the reform process”.
This seems to be EU-ese for “You screwed it up. We told you we would be looking for signs of improving political maturity, and Fatos Nano did everything but throw himself to the ground kicking and screaming for Mommy. So, no SAA this year. And maybe not next year either, unless you show us that you’re serious about reform. Don’t think we’ve forgotten the last time you were in charge in Albania, Doctor Berisha.”
— I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I’m all in favor of holding EU candidates’ toes to the fire. And Albania — poor and notoriously corrupt — has a long way to go to meet EU standards. On the other hand, it seems a bit unfair to punish the entire country for the selfish, stupid stubbornness of one man.
But anyway, there it is: Albania has just had its first peaceful and democratic transfer of power.