03/07/2005 - D-7
Just a few days before the general elections that are to take place in Albania on 3rd July, the two main political parties, the Democratic Party (PD) led by former President of the Republic (1992-1997) Sali Berisha, and the Socialist Party (PSSH) led by Prime Minister Fatos Nano are running neck and neck in the opinion polls. The latest survey undertaken by Gallup International published on 19th June credits the Democratic Party with 35% of the vote versus 34% for the Socialist Party. Sali Berisha's party has fallen behind in comparison with the previous opinion polls in May with the Socialists maintaining the level they were at a month ago. The Socialist Movement for Integration (MSI), a party created by the former Prime Minister Ilir Meta, is due to win 10% of the votes. Several politicians and intellectuals protested against the publication of the surveys just before the general elections fearing that popular discontent might emerge if the latter did not reflect the reality of the ballot boxes.
The Socialist Party has been affected by a decline in power. According to the polls half of the Albanians say they are "disappointed" by Fatos Nano's government. He has been leading an aggressive campaign against Sali Berisha the leader of the main opposition party, who he accuses of having ruined the country when he was in power. In February 1997 Albania experienced close to what we might call civil war after a popular revolt against the collapse of the financial pyramid system that had been promoted by Sali Berisha and that had offered investments at interest rates of nearly 100%. Nearly 70% of Albanian families had placed their savings in the system. "You must defend your future and not forget that eight years ago thousands of foreign soldiers came to save Albania from disaster and that our political adversaries and Sali Berisha nearly pushed us into a fratricidal war. We escaped the abyss and we have rebuilt our institutions and given Albanian the hope once again that their country can be democratic and aspire to joining the European Union and NATO," declared Fatos Nano. If he wins the Prime Minister promises to create new jobs and to promote foreign investment and to ensure greater security. The Prime Ministers keeps repeating, "it is without you, Berisha, that the future of this European country can be guaranteed." The rivalry between Fatos Nano and Sali Berisha has set the pace of Albanian political life for many years but many political analysts believe that both men behave more like gang leaders than real politicians.
The Socialist Party has also been pressured by the Socialist Movement for Integration, a dissident party that was created in September 2004 by Ilir Meta, a long time opponent of Prime Minister Fatos Nano who might, during these general elections, become the third leading political force in the country. Ilir Meta, who does not want to be involved in the conflict between his two main rivals, is, like the very popular mayor of the capital Tirana, Edi Rama (Socialist Party) much appreciated by the Socialists and those close to the Democratic Party.
For his part, Sali Berisha is calling on Albanians to vote for change and for the country's "European future". "It is time to change and replace the corrupt system by a State of Law. It is time to move towards Albania's European future," he declared. Like his main rival the opposition leader has promised to create new jobs, to fight against corruption – "clean hands and equality before the law, this is our promise," – and finally to reform the taxation system to make it more liberal.
The USA has reminded Albanian politicians of their promise to organise truly democratic general elections. On 27th April last all of the political parties signed, with Alfred Moisiu, President of the Republic in attendance, an ethic pact in order to avoid tension and other protests that since the collapse of Communism have often marked Albanian elections - the results of which have systematically been challenged by the loser. The parties promised "not to incite violence and hatred through their speeches or undertake activities that might damage the country's peace and stability," and to declare the source of the funds they use during the electoral campaign that must be "transparent and honest." "It is vital that all parties respect and stick to the code of good electoral behaviour, notably by promising to respect the results of a just and free election," declared a deputy spokesperson of the American State Department, Adam Ereli.
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis travelled to Tirana where he met with the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister as well as representatives of the electoral commission and all of the political parties. In addition to this a delegation of four representatives from the Council of Europe, who were visiting Albania asked the country's authorities to set up corrective measures on the electoral roll in order to make up for "the great number of omissions or incomplete data that might exclude a major part of voters from the election." "There is still much to do in order to guarantee that all the votes will be counted correctly in the time set by the electoral law," declared the representatives; they regretted that "political speeches are still extremely scarred by antagonism between the parties and that they do not deal with issues that enable voters to make an enlightened choice." Finally four representatives lamented the "lack of transparency about the funding of the electoral campaign."
Over four hundred observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and around 3500 Albanian observers will be responsible for monitoring the general elections on 3rd July that are considered as a true test in view of Albania's potential integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Both of the main Albanian parties have been in favour of their country joining the EU and NATO since 1991.