Albania: Power Struggle Comes to a Head

Upcoming congress may be Prime Minister Nano’s last chance to silence his reformist critics and avoid early elections.

Albania: Power Struggle Comes to a Head

Upcoming congress may be Prime Minister Nano’s last chance to silence his reformist critics and avoid early elections.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The growing rivalry between two powerful leaders of the ruling Socialist Party of Albania, PSSh, is threatening to precipitate early elections which it has little chance of winning, analysts believe.

They say next month’s party congress - when a new leader is to be elected - could either settle the squabbling once and for all or lead to the loss of PSSh’s majority in the assembly triggering a parliamentary ballot.

A bitter struggle between the leader of the ruling party, Prime Minister Fatos Nano Nano, and his former foreign minister Ilir Meta has been obstructing and complicating the work of the government for a number of months now.

In the forthcoming leadership contest, Nano, who has led the party for the past 12 years, will be challenged by former Albanian president and PSSh member Rexhep Meidani, who announced his candidacy last week. Tirana’s charismatic mayor Edi Rama, who has recently joined the ranks of the party, is also being tipped as a possible candidate. So far, the reformist Meta has not expressed a wish to run.

Whoever the new party head might be, his priority will be to win the support of all PSSh deputies - as if he fails to mend the current split within the party, early elections could be inevitable.

Nano, a tough operator from the communist days, and Meta, a favourite of the international community, who had been overseeing Albania's faltering steps towards European integration, have been in conflict since the latter resigned as foreign minister in July 2003.

The popular young Meta launched a series of attacks on Nano, accusing him of cronyism and corruption, but the prime minister has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Meta has since been joined by a faction of around 15 PSSh deputies, who have twice voted against Nano’s proposals in parliament. They have even joined forces with the opposition Democratic Party, PDSH, to block the government’s work.

Significantly, Meta and his followers combined to block Marko Bello’s candidacy for foreign minister shortly after Meta's resignation - leaving the post vacant.

After the prime minister refused Meta’s demands for far-reaching government reforms, the rebel faction again sided with the PDSH on October 23 to veto the candidacies of Narnik Dokle and Fatmir Xhafa as foreign and interior minister respectively.

Following this vote, Nano told the media that he would “settle things once and for all” with Meta and his allies at the party congress in early December.

Some analysts believe that if Nano is re-elected as party leader, he would be tempted to oust his principal rivals - the PSSh’s constitution allows for the expulsion of deputies which are voting against the party’s interests in parliament.

But others suggest that the prime minister may try to reach an accommodation with Meta over his calls for reform and demand to be included in government, as by getting rid of him and his supporters, Nano would lose support in parliament. This would almost certainly force early elections, which the government is likely to lose as voters are sick of the public squabbling.

A number of observers suggest that if the Socialists had done better in October municipal elections, then the prime minister would be more likely to risk an early parliamentary poll. "If they [PSSh] had come out stronger, then an early ballot could have been an option for Nano," said Enton Abilekaj, a Tirana-based political analyst.

While official results of the local elections are yet to be released, it is estimated that the PSSh lost a lot of ground to the PDSH in several of the former’s traditional strongholds. Unofficial figures suggest that the Socialists narrowly prevailed with around 33 per cent of the vote – two per cent more than their main rivals.

It’s unclear whether Nano would risk an early ballot, but, predictably, the opposition is keen for one to take place, as it has been pressing for Nano’s resignation and the formation of an interim government for some time now. Republikan party leader Robert Ceku said it was the only way to solve the current crisis rocking the country.

Sokol Shameti is a Tirana-based journalist.

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