Recent political developments in Albania indicate a state in a crisis of its own making. Actually, it’s the work of two power-hungry politicians.
Having agreed to rule undisturbed by smaller political parties, the ruling Democratic Party led by the prime minister Dr.Sali Berisha and the opposition Socialist (former Communist) Party led by the mayor of Tirana, Edvin Rama, have set up a faulty electoral system, and an emasculated Presidency that secure for them a dominating position in the country’s politics. By this undemocratic arrangement, the two leaders, have confirmed the general suspicion, which sees in them two power-hungry and unrelenting authoritarians.
The Democratic Party won the elections in 2005 and again in 2009, and is now ruling in coalition with the smaller Socialist Movement for Integration whose chairman, Ilir Meta, the deputy prime minister, was forced to resign under accusations of corruption. Prime minister Berisha has filled the Parliament with hand-picked elements who act as musicians in an orchestra directed by him. No internal dissent within the Party is allowed. The Parliament itself is transformed into an arena of frequent confrontations where civility is absent, and street language and manners predominate. The Government is a gathering of political figures -some of them former Berisha opponents-most of them incompetent and suspected of corruption and nepotism, causing the delay in Albania’s candidacy for membership to the European Union.
Progress has been made in Albania under Berisha‘s rule; however, it was due mostly to forces outside government‘s control, such as substantial foreign remittances, and private tourist facilities. Roads were built with high interest loans, and for the great advantage of a class of privileged profiteers. Economy lacks orientation and suffers from an epidemic of tax evasion. Prime minister Berisha, however, has been able to provide domestic security and stability in the area. Albania is a member of NATO.
The opposition Socialist Party initially seemed to have accepted defeat in the elections. Later, it changed course calling them fraudulent and resolved to boycott the Parliament, a tactic used for almost twenty months now to serve a strategic goal, the overthrow of the legitimate government. The Parliament continued to operate with one vote majority, enacting laws without debate or opposition. The result of these obstructions was the alienation of the electorate, the weakening of the Albanian civil society, and the perpetuation of the conflict between the two parties.
When the efforts to change the situation failed, the Socialist (former Communist) Party began a series of street demonstrations with two requests, “Berisha out“ and “Early elections“ The ruling Democratic Party refused to compromise. The Socialists called for and organized the January 21 demonstration in front of the Prime Minister‘s office in Tirana. In the clashes with the Police and National Guard three demonstrators lost their lives and several, including policemen, were wounded mostly by non-lethal weapons.
As in most cases, the first victim was the truth. Charges and countercharges fly every day, as the frenzied mass-media feeds an atmosphere of diffidence, and revenge. With the high risk of loosing more lives, the Socialist Party of the rebellious and mercurial Edvin Rama is planning more demonstrations against the Government of Berisha.
On his part. Prime Minister Berisha has launched a campaign of discrediting all those who do not agree with him. He calls the demonstrations a “putch“, talks about secret plans to assassinate him, and vows to crush every attempt to remove him. Even more ominous are his accusations addressed against the President of the Republic, the Attorney General of the Republic, and the chairman of the Intelligent Services of the Republic, who, in his words, have directly, or indirectly, helped the Socialist Party. No supporting material has been offered. The clash between the state institutions portends grave dangers for the security of the country.
During the January 21 demonstrations in Tirana, the Police and the National Guard did not break down. They stood their ground when demonstrators pelted them with stones and other objects evidently to provoke bloodshed. No foreigner was hurt or threatened, however, and there was no evidence of religious or ethnic conflict. The Albanian military kept out, and official statements were made to this effect.
In Tirana the demonstrators were not young people asking for jobs -although many are unemployed. They looked more like squadrons of Socialist activists angered by the Government’s neglect, corrupt leaders, and “repressive policies” attributed to the ruling Democratic Party. Prime minister Berisha has shown to be a “strong man” with little respect for law, or the rules of the political game. He has not allowed the formation of a loyal opposition even within his own party. By imposing his one man rule, on behalf of political stability, he has missed the chances to build a responsible civil society and the democratic institutions Albania sorely misses today.
The organizers and their followers did not succeed in convincing the majority of the people who stood aside. One main reason was the general fear of the unknown if and when Berisha is gone. Also, general confidence in the Socialist (former Communist) Party is low, due to memories of the Communist dictatorship for half a century.
The incendiary rhetoric of prime minister Berisha. his open threats to the opposition party, his criticism of the President, the Attorney General and the chairman of Intelligence Services, his disregard for the warnings coming from powerful friends like the United States and the European Union, are totally out of place, very harmful, and affect negatively the restoration of a genuine dialogue among the two conflicting forces. This is the result of the anti-values nourished in Albania, today, which do not accept non-violent ways of solving the country’s political disagreement as a major cultural achievement., especially for a country with the ambition to join the European Union.
There are, at least, two possible scenarios to get out of this morass:
First, the Parliament should vote down the proposals presented by the Government in a vote of no-confidence. It takes two or three players in the “orchestra” to vote against
The Government would fall, and a new interim Government would be formed with a new Prime Minister. Early elections are not a solution, as the Albanians must learn to have regular general elections only once in four years.
Second, prime minister Berisha - and Mr. Rama, in order to calm down the situation should relinquish their positions as heads of their respective parties, and not run again in the 2013 elections. This means to pass the torch to a new and less poisonous. generation The gesture would be seen as a great service to the nation by both departing figures.
(February 2, 2011)