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Western Press Review: Surprise Results In Turbulent Albania

Prague, 1 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary ponders the meaning of the clear defeat of the administration of Albanian President Sali Berisha in elections Sunday.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG:Socialist advocate European integration

Commentator Bernhard Kuppers says today that it would be a false interpretation to read the result as an Albanian reversion to socialism. He writes: "'Back to Socialism' was how an envoy of the European Association of Christian Democratic and Conservative Parties saw the Socialists' early claim to have won the Albanian general election. However, this view, coming from an organization that has backed Albanian President Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party for even longer than the U.S. government has done, is wide of the mark.

"In the five years since his own victory at the polls, Berisha has ruled autocratically and has dealt in a hostile manner with opposition of any kind. He has thereby hindered the emergence of democratic institutions and a system of checks and balances. The Socialists, successors in 1991 to the formerly communist Party of Labour, have long advocated -- as have the Democrats -- Albanian membership of NATO and the European Union. They are not going to deviate from the road to market economics, if only because Albania now needs international financial assistance more urgently than ever."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Albania now has a chance for stability

In the British newspaper, correspondent Julius Strauss reports from Tirana in a news analysis that Albania now has a chance of restoring stability. He writes: "The Socialist victory means that a four-month-long anti-Berisha uprising in the south could now come to an end. Local rebel leaders have pleaded to lay down their guns if the president resigns. But in the anti-communist north, reestablishing law and order could prove difficult for the new government."

WASHINGTON POST: New conciliatory language welcomed by West

A news analysis today by Jonathan C. Randal describes approvingly the deportment of election victor Fatos Nanos, head of Albania's Socialist Party. Randal says: "In a news conference, Nano seemed awed by what he called his party's 'overwhelming, near plebiscite-like' victory. He pledged that a 'new day has dawned for peace, cohabitation and coexistence,' linking government and opposition to bring Albania up to 'European' political standards. Such conciliatory language was what Western powers involved in trying to restart Albania wanted to hear. The 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which helped monitor the election, moved quickly to set a seal of approval on the imperfect elections."

Randal writes: "With at least 600,000 military weapons in private hands in this Vermont-sized country, Albanians have grown so accustomed to daily violence that they appeared suspicious of the almost total calm that has prevailed since the election."

TIMES OF LONDON: Orderly transition not assured

In its news analysis, correspondent Tom Walker writes that although Berisha has conceded defeat, an orderly government transition is not yet assured. Walker writes: "President Berisha of Albania yesterday accepted his Democratic Party's overwhelming defeat by its Socialist rivals, whose leader Fatos Nano looks certain to become the new head of state."

The writer says, however: "The coming days will determine whether Mr. Berisha's Democrats and the militias behind them will accept their defeat. Heavily armed thugs lingered outside party headquarters yesterday. (The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) can breathe a sigh of relief that the elections have passed off in relative calm."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Nano's possibility for success questionable

A difficult election and a difficult task ahead leave the Albania situation still in question, the newspaper editorializes today. The Frankfurt newspaper says: "Not even those who are naive in the extreme could describe the Albanian elections as regular. Violence and fear have forced countless Albanians either to go to the polls or to avoid voting, to put their cross against this or that name on the ballot paper. Possibly the choice was not much better than in the elections of 1996, which were falsified by the state."

The editorial says: "(Even so) time has run out for Berisha and his Democratic Party. Whether Nano and his Socialists, the former communists, are even capable of ruling half successfully is questionable. In the South, in particular, there are whole regions in the hands of gangs. If Nano engages in power sharing with them, then he has lost. Again, if he moves to suppress them, then maybe the terror will ignite and spread around him. The followers of the defeated regime will not easily submit to the victors; the fight for power and glory will not subside so easily in Albania."

LE FIGARO: Opposition predicted outcome early

The French newspaper notes this morning that the outcome seemed evident early. The newspaper says: "Albania looks to elections as a means of escaping chaos." It says: " 'Farewell Sali Berisha!' was the headline on the front page of the daily Independent, close to the opposition, already pronouncing its verdict while the Albanians were only beginning to cast their ballots. South of the capital, when the electors queued up outside the polling station, it marked an end to the reign of President Berisha."

Frankfurter Rundschau: Elections represent peace and stability

The newspaper sees the outcome more optimistically. It says in an editorial: "The elections in Albania took place not only without friction, but also more fairly than one would have hoped considering the anarchy of the past months, the bitter political controversies and the organizational shortcomings. The apprehensions of many that those who lost might revolt has at least not been manifested so far. So at least Albania has achieved a chance of a reversion to inner peace and political stability.

"The Socialist election victor Fatos Nano, must now set the tone. If he plays his trumps too high, he risks new confrontations. Albania, economically exhausted and torn, now needs above all social consensus and political compromises. This will not be easy; for democratic traditions are still alien to the Albanians five years after the fall of the (communist) dictatorship."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Under pressure, Berisha behaves

Andrew Gumbel writes today : "After five years of scant regard for democratic principles, in which all the problems were automatically blamed on a Stalinist-terrorist opposition, Mr. Berisha -- under intense pressure -- behaved with aplomb."

In his news analysis, Gumbel says: "The challenges ahead are enormous -- disarming the rebel bands so that roads, towns and villages can be made safe again; building a barely developed economy that has been devastated by the collapse of the pyramid schemes; and encouraging a truly pluralistic culture in which the (news) media are free and both government and opposition can co-exist peacefully."