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Albania: Socialists And Monarchy Gain Support

Tirana, 30 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Initial returns from yesterday's parliamentary elections point to a landslide victory for the Socialists. At the same time, Albanians also appear to have voted in a referendum to restore the monarchy.

The purpose of the elections was to end confusion about Albania's political future. All parties agreed that clarification was necessary following the country's descent into anarchy after the collapse of get-rich-quick pyramid schemes at the start of the year.

But the results only add to the confusion. On one hand, Albanians voted to move to the left and oust an administration that was increasingly accused of corruption and authoritarian methods. On the other hand, first predictions by monarchist Justice Minister Spartak Ngjela indicate that between 50 and 60 percent of that same electorate may have decided to change the constitutional system and voted for the reinstitution of a king.

The paradox is all the greater if one recalls that the present claimant to the throne, Leka Zogu, is the son of Zog I, who promoted himself from president to king in 1928. This dynasty can scarcely be considered to represent a tradition, and Zog, in any event, was ousted by his Italian patrons in 1939.

Many Albanians, furthermore, identify Zog's rule with its narrow base of support in the central Mat region and with despotism and corruption. Leka himself is known as an arms-dealer on account of his previous business activities in the former Rhodesia and in South Africa. But Leka's image as a successful businessman also seems to attract many Albanians.

If Ngjela's predictions turn out to be true, it could also suggest that the pro-monarchy vote was really a protest measure against current President Sali Berisha. This would explain the apparent discrepancy between the victories of both the Socialist Party and the monarchy.

In any event, the results suggest above all that the electorate is searching for new points of orientation at a time of social and political insecurity but without really knowing what it wants. The results thus appear to be a sign of confusion and irritation rather than of strong conviction. It cannot be excluded that the same voters may be cheering Berisha in the streets six months hence if the current victors disappoint them.

Nor is it clear what practical impact the referendum itself will actually have. Berisha decreed the holding of the referendum, but it is not binding on parliament. This is because the constitution does not provide for referenda and there are no rules defining how to apply their results.

Confusion is all the greater because the referendum did not ask precisely what kind of monarchy the voters want. Ngjela assumes that the constitutional provisions of 1928 will apply, but there are also other possible interpretations, since no constitution was mentioned in the text of the referendum.

The new parliament will also have to decide whether the referendum can even be considered valid. If Prime Minister Bashkim Fino is correct and just 53 percent of the participating voters decided in favor of a monarchy, then that number may be far less than half of the total electorate. Parliament could thus throw out the results of the referendum on the grounds that only a majority of all possible voters can decide on such an important constitutional question, as is the case in Danish law.

The legislators could also argue that numerous technical irregularities during the elections and the lack of security throughout the country during the campaign would preclude recognizing the referendum as valid. The newly-elected legislators would, however, be questioning the legitimacy of their own mandates in the process, and hence may prefer to avoid objecting to the referendum on the grounds that conditions in the country were chaotic.

But before the legislators will be able to address these questions, they will be holding their own negotiations about possible coalitions. Prior to the elections, the Socialists offered to form a new broad-based "reconciliation government." It now remains to be seen, however, whether they are indeed ready to share their newly-won power.