Albania: Political Deadlock Broken

Albania's fractious politicians set aside their differences to elect a president that many hope will lead Albania towards European integration

Albania: Political Deadlock Broken

Albania's fractious politicians set aside their differences to elect a president that many hope will lead Albania towards European integration

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The Albanian parliament this week bowed to international pressure and elected Alfred Moisiu president, in the hope that his appointment will go some way to curbing the country's ruinous political squabbling.

The European parliament had appealed, through the MEP Doris Pack, for the Albanian parliament to elect a non-partisan president who can focus on working for reconciliation.

By implication, this ruled out Fatos Nano and Sali Berisha, leaders of the ruling Socialist and opposition Democratic parties respectively. Last week, both agreed to support Moisiu - an independent who was the only candidate for the post - in the interests of national unity.

Moisiu was elected Monday in a secret ballot broadcast live on many television stations. He received 97 votes, with 19 against, 14 abstentions and four spoiled ballots.

A decade of friction between the ruling leftist coalition led by the Socialist Party and the opposition, headed by the Democratic Party, had delayed Albania's transition to a market economy and postponed admission to key European institutions.

Stabilisation and Association Agreement negotiations with the European Union were recently postponed from June to September. The International Monetary Fund had also put back the signing of a three-year agreement and some World Bank funds have been witheld.

Moisiu's election was hailed across the political spectrum. "This is a historical day for Albanian politics, a day when both sides pooled their resources in a process which will prove fundamental for this country's development," said Berisha after casting his vote. He gave assurances that the opposition would fully respect the president's mandate.

The election breaks a political logjam over the presidential appointment. After the June 2001 elections, all the parties fell short of the 60 per cent of parliamentary seats required to impose their own candidate as president.

Nano then began to try to raise the necessary level of support to become head of state, but discovered that he had little backing in his own party and that then premier Ilir Meta also opposed his candidacy.

He then tried to topple the government, which he claimed was incapable of leading the country. Meta's administration subsequently resigned at the end of January, replaced by Pandeli Majko, whose choice of cabinet suggested that he supported Nano. But the latter would still have required some opposition votes to be elected president.

The opposition, however, were determined not to vote for him, or to support the incumbent president, Rexhep Meidani. Alleging electoral irregularities last year, Berisha had even threatened to boycott Monday's presidential vote.

With consensus now replacing the deadlock, Moisiu will be sworn in on July 24. A widower with four children, he is currently the head of the Albanian Atlantic Association, but has previous experience of political office as deputy defence minister from 1994-7.

Moisiu's election may have been facilitated by Berisha and Nano, but he is said to have told both politicians that they must not attempt to interfere with his mandate. "I accepted the office of president... in response to the spirit of cooperation which has emerged in order to further Albania's integration into European and Atlantic structures," he said after the vote.

The process of reaching consensus was not entirely smooth. Moisiu was proposed by the opposition after the candidate offered up by the Socialists, Ambassador to Brussels Artur Kuko, declined to run.

Moreover, some politicians in both the Socialist and Democratic parties were against the compromise candidate.

Nonetheless, Moisiu's election as president marks a new beginning for Albania, which both main political blocs hope will smooth the way for entry into key European institutions.

Llazar Semini is IWPR's editor in Albania.

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