"Friends of Albania" meet CEC members
One week after the reorganization of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), ambassadors to Albania from the European Union (EU), the United States, Greece, Denmark, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Commission, and the Council of Europe—known collectively as the "Friends of Albania Group"—met with the current CEC membership in an expression of diplomatic support for the disputed CEC composition.
The "Friends of Albania" ambassadors expressed their concern about the "lost time" since the October 2000 local elections and called on the new CEC to make due preparations for the general parliamentarian elections planned for June 2001. The ambassadors hailed the latest efforts at dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties and appealed to all Albanian institutions—especially the CEC—to cooperate with all political parties to create the foundation for a stable and open political and electoral climate.
The renewed Central Election Commission (CEC) held its first meeting last week, promising collaboration and transparency with all political parties. CEC members also discussed and approved a draft agreement with the government, while suggesting some improvements to it. Following consultation with government representatives, CEC members Maks Sinami and Tomor Malaj will sign a memorandum of cooperation between the CEC and government, which will sanction cooperative relations between the two institutions for the June 2001 elections.
Socialist leader Fatos Nano has invited Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha to a top-level roundtable reserved for only a few political parties. Following the failure of the the first meeting, the Socialists stated that they would participate only in expert-level talks, but Nano has now agreed to accept the idea of political party level meetings.
When asked by reporters about the dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties, Nano responded that he was disposed to embrace dialogue at the highest level, meaning meetings with his counterpart, Berisha. Nano thus implied an invitation to Berisha, which appears to bring the two parties one step closer to meeting. Nano called for serious reflection and for responsible politicians and political forces able to lead the country forward. He also introduced the idea of creating a monitoring structure to control the political process, instead of leaving that task to international bodies.
Nano and Berisha, who are dominant in their respective political parties have not met since 1990-91, when the first steps toward political pluralism in Albania were taken. According to some analysts their personal and political differences still play a key role in Albanian politics and strongly influence their followers, who dominate Albania's political militancy. Recently the two leaders by chance found themselves face-to-face and refused even to greet each other.
Proposed dialogue between Socialists and Democrats
Arben Malaj, Socialist Party (SP) parliamentary group leader, last week welcomed requests from his Democratic Party (DP) counterpart, Jemin Gjana, to form a commission to check on voter rolls. According to various reports, some SP deputies initially opposed the proposal, but Malaj told reporters that the Socialists were committed to wider involvement on the part of the opposition in the next elections, as has also been confirmed by Prime Minister Ilir Meta.
The Socialists are awaiting a DP response concerning upcoming roundtable meetings. Official sources said the SP has accepted the idea of having other parties at the table, although they have demanded a limited number of participants.
SP leaders meet EC representatives
Gramoz Ruci, Socialist Party (SP) secretary general, and Luan Rama, SP secretary for public relations, met last week with a group from the Monitoring Commission of the Europe Council Parliamentary Assembly, headed by Jerzy Smoravinski. The SP leaders confirmed their party's commitment to preparing for the general elections this summer as well as to actual steps to be taken towards this goal. Ruci said the Socialists were ready to sit down for constructive dialogue with the opposition parties and that SP initiatives would offer concrete solutions towards a democratic, open, and undisputed electoral process.
CEC to check voter registration
The CEC has decided to examine voter registration lists for the last local elections, relying on Civil Office records as previously requested by the opposition. Yesterday's meeting, however, did not determine whether they would work on the basis of the present registry or would prepare a new one. The CEC assigned three of its members to follow the matter, which will be decided by the commission's Financial Computerization Center. The three officials—Maks Shimani, Tomorr Malaj, and Klement Zguri—will cooperate with international monitoring organizations.
CEC member Klement Zguri stated that an entirely new voter registration is necessary, but the rest of the CEC opposed this idea. Zguri claims that voter registration for the October 2000 elections was inaccurate and that because it had not been approved by the CEC at the time, it was now invalid. Klement Zguri and Gasper Koka refused to sign the final CEC document, claiming irregularities in certain zones during last October's elections.
The local Power Ministry will also assist the registration project through its countrywide infrastructure. The ministry, however, has been under fierce attack by the opposition over its performance during the last local elections, particularly in regards to the preparation of voter registration lists.
Pollo invited to visit USA
According to the New Democratic Party (NDP) spokesperson Eno Bozgo, NDP Secretary Genc Pollo has been invited to the United States by Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the International Relations Committee of the US Congress. According to Bozgo, Hyde expressed a desire to meet Pollo in Washington to discuss matters of mutual interest. During the visit Pollo will also meet with other representatives of the new Bush administration.
Commentators consider the invitation to Pollo, once an ally of former Albanian President Sali Berisha and now a Democratic Opposition challenger of Berisha's leadership, as an indication of the Bush administration's attitude towards the perceived inflexibility of Berisha's politics. Berisha and his followers, because of their similar political positions and because of Berisha's personal friendship with Bush, Sr, believe that the new administration will support the Democrats rather than the ruling Socialists in their bid for political power in Albania.
Artur Nura, 23 February 2001
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