Rough Tactics As Albanian Political Grandees Face Down Younger Challengers

Fatos Nano and Sali Berisha, two sworn enemies who are poles apart in Albanian politics, have both confronted challenges from their younger colleagues. The battle has been hard - and has already claimed one casualty.

Rough Tactics As Albanian Political Grandees Face Down Younger Challengers

Fatos Nano and Sali Berisha, two sworn enemies who are poles apart in Albanian politics, have both confronted challenges from their younger colleagues. The battle has been hard - and has already claimed one casualty.

Albanians are watching two ambitious star pupils and their rehabilitated, charismatic political professors wrangling in public at both ends of the political spectrum.


For one, the struggle has already proven too much. On the right, stoic Genc Pollo, 35, resigned Wednesday unable to sustain his bid to unseat former president Sali Berisha as leader of the opposition Democratic Party (DP). Pollo withdrew from the race on Wednesday claiming alleged voting irregularities.


"We chose not to participate in a process whose final results have been determined,'' Pollo told reporters. But he said he would stay with the DP.


His walkout followed the sacking of senior Democratic Party leaders Ylli Vejsiu and Leonard Demi "on concocted charges". He accused Berisha's allies of fostering "an atmosphere of lynching." Vejsiu was sacked from a DP council after he allegedly called Berisha "a criminal"


The news will disappoint western observers, who have long lost patience with both Berisha and his sworn foe at the other end of the political spectrum, Socialist leader Fatos Nano. The two grandees are notorious for their authoritarianism and clique politics - both had handpicked their two young challengers as future successors only to turn against them later.


Thus the young students of power found themselves walking into the faculty toilets for what soon turned out to be an unsavoury fight. Yet both began well. The West, which had hoped that the two would make way for a younger, more responsible generation of political leaders, gave both of them its backing.


Earlier this year Pollo was invited to Washington D.C. to meet with US congressional and State Department representatives. The visit was seen by many as a vote of support from Washington for Pollo's campaign to take over the DP leadership.


But domestic politics soon reared its ugly head. On Pollo's return he was met by hostile press coverage led by a paper friendly to the DP and Berisha, that implied that he was being funded by, and beholden to, the Greek government.


Despite these tactics, Pollo had been very careful of criticising Berisha. He had used a diplomatic tone, promising to introduce a more "open" and "tolerant" spirit within the DP, an indirect critique of Berisha's autocratic control of the party. Ironically Berisha had began to show a more "calm" approach to challenges, at one point sportingly reminding the electronic media to be sure to give the younger Pollo equal time in their coverage of the contest.


Now Pollo is out of the way, little will change. Berisha's platform is simple - anti-communism and an all out effort to prevent Nano from returning to the political scene.


As for Nano, the former prime minister whose comeback seems ever more assured, he is taking on a youthful challenger of his own, prime minister Pandeli Majko, 31.


Majko's recent crackdown on crime his won him praise from the general population, resulting as it did in the death or arrest of most of the country's major crime lords. At the same time he has been credited with persuading Berisha and the DP to end their boycott of parliament after last year's elections. Berisha had refused to come back until the killers of DP founder Azem Hajdari were brought to justice. Berisha accuses Nano of ordering the killing.


Since Majko took office last year, he has so far remained free of taint of corruption, a significant achievement in a country where political office is generally regarded as an opportunity for personal enrichment.


Nano has nevertheless accused Majko's government of corruption, and Majko himself of 'incompetence' - even though Nano at one time designated him as his handpicked successor.


Majko has been careful in reply to these broadsides, though he has made reference to the way Nano "ran away" to Macedonia and then to Greece when the country descended into anarchy in 1997.


In reply Nano has escalated his campaign and promises to reform the Socialist Party, starting by getting rid of the old communist hacks and barring the party chairman from also serving as either as Prime Minister or President, as is allowed now. Another critic of Majko, Nikol Lesi, owner of the daily Koha Jone and an independent MP, has accused the prime minister of corruption charges.


Koha Jone, well known for its anti-Berisha stance, has investigated Majko's family, focussing on the sale of the state owned Fabiama brick factory to Majko's father-in-law, Guljiel Shoshi. Lesi cites documents that he claims suggest that Majko signed off the privatisation of the factory to Shoshi. Majko has denied wrongdoing and is suing Koha Jone.


Most analysts - who said that Berisha would have easily defeated Pollo for the party leadership anyway - are more confident of Majko's eventual triumph over Nano when the votes are cast at the Socialist party congress on October 11. Nano has created too many enemies with the Socialist Party win a majority while Berisha had too much control over his party to allow a serious defection to Pollo's camp.


Pollo's surrender has however saved Albania from the unpleasant prospect of a return to the bad old clashes between Nano and Berisha, which would probably have sent the entire country into a tailspin again.


Meanwhile the West continues to hope for an eventual Majko victory over Nano. But as one Albanian writer noted: "Both parties have learned that it doesn't make a difference what the West thinks... because the West does not vote."


Fron Nazi is a senior editor with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.


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