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FRI, 20 JUL 2001 22:22:35 GMT

Hastened International Assessment of the Albanian Elections - Why?

AIM Tirana, July 16, 2001

Even after two election rounds held on June 24 and July 8, parliamentary elections in Albania are not over and have consequently set up yet another record - as the longest elections in the history of Albanian politics. Also, the international interest shown in these parliamentary elections in Albania was greater than ever before. What makes them interesting is the haste with which the international factor followed the elections so as to be able to establish their democratic validity and thus end the electoral process.

Rumour in the Tirana diplomatic circles has it that both largest political parties - the Socialist Party (SP) and the Democratic Party (DP)- have received a persuasive international message that the electoral process must be concluded by July 22.

The current parliamentary elections were recognised by the most important offices of international diplomacy. Secretary General of the NATO George Robertson, who visited Tirana on July 12, i.e. after the second election round, as head of a delegation of the Council of Ambassadors of NATO member countries, said that the election results have confirmed that democratic institutions in Albania are strong. He went a step further and at a press conference congratulated the Socialist Prime Minister, Ilir Meta on his re-election.

Actually, Robertson's release came at the moment when Central Electoral Commission had not yet declared final results of the second round and when the SP had not offically designated the Prime Minister for his second term. A day before NATO's Secretary General, Beth Johnson, Assistant State Secretary stated in Washington, before the Foreign Policy Commission of the House of Representatives of the US Congress that the just concluded parliamentary elections in Albania (i.e. their second round) represented yet another step forward in the democratic development of this country. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, the Rumanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, agreed with them when he said on July 13 that elections in Albania represented a clear progress towards European standards and invited the Albanian political parties to acknowledge the results of these elections in a democratic fashion.

What attracts the attention in statements from Brussels, Washington, etc. in relation to assessments of Albanian parliamentary elections is the fact that they were given under similar circumstances: First, at the time the Central Electoral Commission (CIK) did not yet officially declare final election results, because on July 22 two candidates will come face to face once again in four zones, while the elections will have to be repeated at some voting places; Second, when some of the candidates which the CIK proclaimed losers were still waiting for the rulings of lower instance or the Constitutional Court on their complaints against individual election results; Third, when the coalition of the right-wing opposition "Union for Victory" (led by the Democratic Party)was contesting the current elections as rigged and conducted under the police pressure.

Irrespective of the internal situation, the second round confirmed that at these elections the Socialist Party would get the mandate for the formation of the new Government of Albania. This is clear both to local political forces in Tirana, as well as to the international factor and irrespective of the outcome of the legal proceedings they will not change the established parliamentary balance.

At first glance, it seems that the international community did not take into account the complaints of the right opposition regarding the parliamentary elections. However, it is a historic fact that ever since 1996 the loosing side never recognised the winner. That happened at parliamentary elections in 1996, at early parliamentary elections in 1997 and at local elections in 2000, and again now at these parliamentary elections. The international community and its monitoring missions are already used to such things happening at the Albanian elections and they devote much more attention to steps and elements of progress in the organisation and administration of electoral process. Irrespective of the type and number of opposition's complaints (led by DP and its leader, former President Sali Berisha), the fact remains that the international monitoring missions, which followed both election rounds in Albania assessed that the elections represented a step forward in the consolidation of the democracy.

Even President of the Commission for South-East Europe in the European Parliament, Doris Pack, known for her inclination towards the Albanian right-wing, stated on July 13 that these Albanian elections were much better than all previous elections in many respects.

The ability of missions and the international community to understand the character and positive elements of electoral and political developments in Albania surpassed that of the Albanian opposition. In this sense, the international community thought it necessary to state its stand and dissipate the mistrust of the greater part of Albanian electorate, which was additionally fuelled by the inability of the Albanian political parties to accept the defeat and victory as the integral part of elections.

It should be pointed out that what we have called a haste of the international community to sanction the results of Albanian parliamentary elections and close the chapter of the election process here, was mostly dictated by the situation in the region. The continuation of the armed conflicts in Macedonia between the Albanian guerrilla and the Macedonian Government, so close to the Albanian border, has caused additional concern over the possible spreading of the conflict. This fact makes Tirana's stand on the crisis and conflict in Macedonia extremely important for the international strategic plan for the stabilisation of the region. Prime Minister Ilir Meta was highly commended by the European Union, NATO, OSCE, etc. and even Macedonian officials for his stand on this conflict when he condemned the armed extremist acts and supported the sovereignty and integrity of Macedonia. The international circles positively assessed his ability to keep Albania out of the Macedonian crisis, despite incidents on the border between the two countries during the entire crisis, when a Macedonian military patrol entered the Albanian territory and took some 400 animals.

This influenced the international community to observe the Albanian parliamentary elections in the light of the future political course of the Tirana Government after the elections. NATO's Secretary General openly said in Tirana that the current parliamentary elections in Albania were important for the entire region. Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE stated the same. The most important international circles(including those on the right), such as the President Bush's administration or Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, recently clearly stated their wish to continue cooperation with Prime Minister Meta's Cabinet. And when results of two election rounds confirmed the victory of the Socialist Government, that prompted the international community to hasten to give its positive assessment of the Albanian parliamentary elections.

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