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Albania: Infighting Unsettles Government

A simmering feud between the premier and a leading reformist could soon boil over again.
By Ilir Aliaj

Infighting is rocking the Albanian parliament following a double resignation and a bitter attack on the government from reformist ex-minister Ilir Meta.


Prime Minister Fatos Nano's long-running rivalry with fellow ruling Socialist Party member Meta boiled over just before parliament broke for summer recess at the end of July.


The tension came to a head when Meta, who used to hold the foreign minister and deputy premier posts, sent an open letter to the prime minister demanding that the government speed up reforms and stamp out corruption.


The Socialist leadership met to discuss the letter and resolved to take action - but Meta claimed they then failed to do so.


As a consequence, Meta quit the government on July 18 and accused the leadership of seeking to preserve the status quo. Sokol Nako, the minister in charge of integration with Europe, resigned with him. Next day


The premier moved swiftly to limit the damage, but his attempts to appoint replacement ministers were stymied by Meta's supporters and the opposition Democratic Party.


Ermelinda Meksi was confirmed as the new integration minister and deputy prime minister by a parliamentary vote - but Socialist Marko Bello's candidacy for the foreign ministry was turned down, after four party members defied Nano's instructions and joined the Democrats in opposing the move. The opposition's position was strengthened when a further 16 deputies abstained.


While Bello brushed aside parliament's rejection, describing those who voted against him as "a small group who want to create problems", Nano called a press conference on July 29 in which he accused Meta and his supporters of playing into the hands of Democratic leader Sali Berisha.


Luan Haidaraga, the former deputy foreign minister, was appointed caretaker foreign minister the following day but the rift within the Socialists has not been mended - despite official efforts to downplay its seriousness.


The resignations have now sparked a bitter struggle for control of the party, as deputies sympathetic to the outgoing politician lined up in parliament to stop Nano appointing a successor.


When parliament reopens after the August recess, Nano will have the unenviable task of leading a weakened party into this autumn's local government elections - while his popular younger rival Meta tries to undermine him from the sidelines.


Meta, who had been overseeing Albania's faltering steps towards European integration, has also become popular with the international community, and Nano will have a difficult time convincing EU leaders that this process will not be damaged by his former deputy's departure.


The animosity between Nano, a hardened operator from the communist days, and Meta, who has impressed westerners by improving relations with Serbia following the Kosovo conflict and combating organised crime, has long been an open secret in the government.


Meta and his deputies have accused the premier of corruption and cronyism. "He has established his group of volunteers and is using the old methods of the former communist leaders," said Meta of the prime minister. "Nano has now become someone who represents only his own interests and those of the dangerous clans behind him."


Dritan Prifti, a Socialist deputy who voted against Bello's bid for foreign minister, said that his group was trying to send a clear signal to Nano. "First of all, [Bello's] was not a proper candidature. But the vote against him was also aimed at showing the prime minister that reforms must not stall."


However, Prifti admitted that there was little chance that the premier would heed such warnings. "I still see [Nano] trying to flex his muscles, when he knows very well that he cannot count on a majority, as proved by the vote in parliament," Prifti said.


Bello was bullish about his country's moves towards EU entry, pointing out that the minister in charge of integration had been nominated successfully. Prifti said he approved of Meksi as integration minister, but feared that the government's "inefficiency" would stop her from doing her job well.


Albanian political analyst Fatos Lubonja told IWPR that greed had underpinned the latest power struggle, "Albanian politicians become corrupt if they stay in power too long, as they become sucked into the black economy. Events force them to use illegal structures to destroy rival groups - and the other group is forced to respond in the same way. I think it is now time for the government to go into opposition."


Ilir Alijaj is a freelance journalist based in Tirana.


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