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Albania: Preparing For Early Elections -- An Analysis

Prague, 22 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - With elections scheduled for late June in Albania, political parties are getting ready for the ballot. As a result of the recent crisis, the political landscape has been rapidly changing, making predictions about the possible outcome difficult.

Most voters in previous elections supported either of the two main rivals, the Democrats or the Socialists. Meanwhile, the disappointed electorate may turn to other options. One such option may become Leka Zogu, the claimant to the throne and son of the last king.

When voters elected President Sali Berisha in 1992, the political scene was divided into two large camps. The Socialist Party, reformed heirs to the Communist Party of Labor, had become the largest opposition party. Berisha's Democratic Party (PD) originally had integrated a wide political spectrum, coming from the student-movement that brought about the end of Communism. But since then, it has developed into a large conservative party with a strong anti-Communist platform, and a clear identification with the person of Berisha. Several former high-ranking Democratic Party officials have, over time, left the party, and criticized Berisha for his authoritarian style of rule.

This, in turn, led to a diversification of the Albanian party system. A large number of smaller conservative parties have failed to formulate a common policy and to join forces, but in the middle of the political spectrum the Social Democrats and the Democratic Alliance have formed a coalition, called the Center Pole. The election law, however, provides mainly for direct, rather than proportional representation, and has thus frustrated the efforts of the smaller parties to get into Parliament. Consequently, the Democrats took over 80 percent of all parliamentary seats in last year's elections, even though they got only just over half of the votes nationwide. In the upcoming elections, much of the outcome will thus depend on whether a new election law comes into force first.

Due to the disappointment of many Albanians with Berisha, the Democrats can expect heavy losses when the country goes to the polls.

The Socialists, for their part, will be able to capitalize on the crisis and can rely on a strong traditional base of supporters. Furthermore, the current leadership of the party is younger than it was in the last elections. Party leader Fatos Nano successfully promoted changes in the program, abolishing references to Marxism and reforming the party into a Western-oriented, social democratic-type party. Also, the appointment of Socialist Bashkim Fino as interim Prime Minister by Berisha has given the reform-oriented Socialists further publicity and a chance to present themselves in a better light.

Still, many disenchanted former Democratic Party voters will, under no circumstances, support the Socialists. Most such people are more likely to vote for the Center Pole coalition, which has put stress on civil liberties. It also wants a constitution providing for a strong parliament, as opposed to the current presidential system. But a large number of former Democratic Party supporters may prefer to vote for the smaller rightist parties. Those include the Republican Party, a former coalition member with the Democrats. The Republicans offer a socially conservative and nationalist platform. Another possibility is the Christian Democrats, a tiny conservative party with support mainly in the North among the Catholic communities and in Shkoder.

In the southern communities, which are still largely controlled by rebel committees, the election results are even more difficult to predict. The Socialist Party has traditionally more support in the south, and some rebel committees have been friendly to Fino and the Socialists. But last year's ballot also gave the Democrats solid majorities there. Some former Democrats are also among the rebels, and the conservatives have considerable support in the south.

Considering that many conservative voters all over the country now may look for new options, the recently returned Leka Zogu has a unique chance to promote his idea of re-establishing the monarchy. Even though his Legality party never gained enough votes to get into parliament in the past, his hopes may now be realistic for winning in the planned referendum on the future form of government -- monarchy, presidential republic, or parliamentary republic.

Zogu hopes to capitalize on the current crisis and has begun touring the country, calling for national reconciliation and peace. He is promoting himself as a padrone, safeguarding local and national interests. And to show his talents, he can present himself not only as a king, but also as an experienced international businessman.