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Albanians Shun Bullets and Embrace The Ballot

Albanians have just fought a general election in which arguments
By IWPR

Llazar Semini from Tirana reports (BCR No. 264, 20-Jul-01)


Albania's ruling Socialist Party looks set to return to power after a


general election conducted in such well ordered fashion that


international observers believed the country, once gripped by anarchy,


might now be moving towards the rule of law.


With results of the June 24 ballot still coming in, it was still not clear whether Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano would win an absolute majority of the 140-seat single-chamber parliament. But his party seemed fairly confident that they would do so.


The opposition Union for Victory coalition headed by the Democratic


Party of Sali Berisha lost again though this time they will have more seats in the parliament.


The conduct of the election won a nod of approval from the


International Election Observation Mission, consisting of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.


The mission said the poll had shown "marked progress" since previous


elections, particularly in the fields of campaign conduct, media


behaviour and election administration. But its preliminary statement


noted that "in a number of politically sensitive constituencies the


performance of election commissions was problematic".


The United States government and the European parliament also hinted


they accept the voting results as valid. The relative absence of


squabbling and violence plus the more conciliatory tone of


electioneering impressed the international community in general.


The peaceful nature of the voting, with only a handful of violent


incidents reported, drew almost as much attention as the actual


results. Perhaps the most notable feature was the way in which political groups and individual candidates referred disputes to the judiciary instead of reaching for guns.


For this the Albanians found a good model to follow. They had learned


with some surprise that even in a US presidential election candidates


could take their arguments to court. The spectacle of the lengthy legal


wrangling in Florida may have been taken to heart because Albanian


politicians referred 31 of their cases to the constitutional court.


Dozens of other cases went to lower courts, all a marked contrast to the old days when firearms provided the most common form of arbitration.


Where does the future lay for the ruling Socialists? Their objectives


are clear enough. In this election their record was measured by progress from the state of anarchy which characterised Albania in 1997 to the relatively stable present. In the next elections, the party will need to have provided new roads, a better health system and improved water and power supplies. But they know these are not easy targets.


The Socialists will also need to combat corruption and the trafficking of children, prostitutes and drugs. A US State Department report included Albania among a group of 23 countries failing to fight these problems efficiently.


Berisha's Democratic Party faces a hard struggle if it is to reverse its string of defeats. The party fought this time at the head of a


five-party coalition which made it easier for Berisha to spread the


blame for defeat. He clearly had learned a lesson from last year's local election loss, in which he labelled himself as the personification of opposition.


Despite his repeated failures, there is a chance Berisha will remain at


the head of the Democrats although some newspapers are urging his


removal. A number of analysts think the coalition was more damaging than profitable to its members.


"Separately the coalition parties would cause more damage to the


Socialists and earn more votes for themselves," said Sabri Godo, a former deputy.


An interesting outcome was the defeat of all the other smaller parties


and the success of a newly created center-right Reformed Democratic


Party led by politicians who have abandoned Berisha. It came third in the contest.


"The Albanian people have indicated their preparedness for a new level


of political practice that will bring them closer to their Euro-Atlantic neighbours," an OSCE statement said.


The world is waiting to see the losers accept the result and cooperate


in the new parliament, something that has never happened in Albania. "Of paramount importance," the statement went on, " is the acceptance of internationally recognised election results by all parties."


Albania's Socialists are aiming for European Union and NATO membership, both hard targets to reach in the next four years. To achieve these goals, they must fight poverty and strive to take Albanians nearer to


European standards.


Llazar Semini is IWPR project editor in Tirana.