Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: Albania Still Cursed by Corruption

Whoever wins next month's vote needs to do more to turn Albania into a state based on rule of law.
By Fron Nazi

In the parliamentary elections in Albania, which take place in less than a month, Fatos Nano's Socialist Party, SP, faces a stiff challenge from Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, DP.

Since the collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997 forced Berisha out of the president's office in disgrace, a Socialist government led by Prime Minister Nano has markedly improved the country's infrastructure, increased employment and has raised the overall standard of living.

But Berisha claims that this has come at a high cost, in the form of state-supported money laundering and the legalisation of what amounts to a mafia state.

As the July 2 ballot approaches, the accusations have escalated, culminating at a recent DP rally outside Tirana, where Berisha accused Nano of using a government helicopter to transport drugs.

Western embassies, which in the past more or less openly played the role of king makers, have this time taken more of a wait-and-see approach.

Unofficially, they prefer Nano to the unpredictable Berisha, seeing the Socialists as better guarantors of domestic and regional stability.

Since 1991, both main political options have pledged economic growth and membership of the European Union and NATO. To promote their campaigns, they have used two tactics: a photo opportunity of the party leader with one or more western leaders (preferably from the US) and the re-printing of western press articles praising their candidate or criticising their opponent.

However, the 2005 elections have seen a new strategy, as both parties have hired international public relations firms and political strategists.

The DP has recruited the US-based PR firm, Barbour, Griffith and Rogers and the political strategist Stuart Stevens.

The Socialists are believed to have engaged strategists from both Israel and the US.

Rows over contradictory polls have, meanwhile, offered a foretaste of what we may expect from Berisha if he loses the vote.

Of the two polls so far, one has put the DP and the SP neck-and- neck while the other has Berisha’s party ahead.

Anything short of the result predicted by the latter would prove the SP had stolen the election, said Berisha.

But irrespective of how the two campaigns fare, the challenge facing both the Socialists and the Democrats is to become part of the solution for the country and not the problem.

The first step both parties need to take is to agree that elections must be free and fair. The will of the people needs to override the expectations and egos of the party leaders. Claims like Berisha's, that the DP will only lose as the result of Socialist manipulation, only creates a climate of instability.

Another problem area is corruption. A recent World Bank study estimated that 1.2 billion US dollars per year is lost in corruption and unpaid taxes. This study suggested that bribery in Albania remains the norm.

It will not be enough to draft and implement laws that combat corruption. Instead, Albanian people must adopt a culture that refuses to tolerate systematic government-sponsored corruption.

Only this can ensure that Albania develops into a country based on the rule of law, not one based on the rule of a political party.

Fron Nazi is vice president of the East West Management Institute, Inc.