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Albania: Political Squabbling Delays IMF, World Bank Assistance

The ruling Socialist Party of Albania chose Defense Minister Pandeli Majko to be the country's new prime minister, replacing Ilir Meta, who resigned on 29 January. As Alban Bala of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reports, the party is facing the most difficult moment in its history. With uncertainty about the government's future, the International Monetary Fund has postponed approval of $30 million in aid for Albania, and the World Bank is warning that another $70 million in loans are at risk.

Tirana, 6 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Although the ruling Socialist Party of Albania (PSSh) reached an agreement today to appoint a new prime minister, Pandeli Majko, the chronic feuds within the leadership appear to be far from over as long as PSSh chairman Fatos Nano and outgoing Prime Minister Ilir Meta continue squabbling.

The party's general steering committee voted in favor of Majko -- a former prime minister during the Kosovo crisis three years ago and minister of defense in Meta's cabinet -- over two other Socialist candidates. Majko now must await a vote in the Socialist-controlled parliament.

The other two candidates for the post were Ermelinda Meksi, minister of trade and international economic cooperation, and Kastriot Islami, a university professor who served as speaker of the parliament in the early 1990s. Islami was minister of education during the presidency of Albania's Communist ruler Ramiz Alia, when a student uprising gave birth to political pluralism in the country.

Majko was considered the favorite. He had Meta's backing, but Nano opposed his election. Meta has praised the party's decision to allow for a vote among the three candidates. In his opinion, this is the first step in trying to reach an accord with Nano.

"I think this is good news, for it makes a solution immediately available to nominate a new prime minister, to form a new government and above all continue our commitment on fulfilling the reforms, the [European Union's] Stability Pact [for Southeastern Europe] agreement, as well as the three-year agreement we have with the World Bank and the [International Monetary Fund]."

Sali Berisha is the leader of the opposition Democratic Party and served as Albanian president from 1992 to 1997. He says he cannot agree to any of the three candidates.

Berisha alleges that as a result of the Meta-Nano split, no parliamentary group enjoys a majority at present. He has asked Albanian President Rexhep Meidani to intervene to create an interim government with broad political support to undertake well-defined objectives -- implementation of economic reforms, improving the electoral law, and leading the country to early elections.

Berisha said: "It seems that the Socialist Party has lost the capacity to govern the country after the violations and massive frauds of the last elections. I believe it is time that everybody realize that the last elections produced no stability in this country. I believe new elections are the only way for long-standing stability in this country."

As for his comments on the ability of the Socialist Party to govern, this is one of the rare times when Berisha's thinking is in accord with that of Western officials. However, international authorities do not support Berisha's idea for early elections. The U.S. ambassador to Albania, Joseph Limprecht, recently met both Socialist and Democrat leaders and urged an end to the political conflict. Limprecht sounded optimistic after the meetings.

"We think that Albanians and their political leaders have the maturity to work through these issues. They're genuine issues. Sometimes, they take time. We are optimistic, as always. We think things will go well."

But the IMF is not quite so upbeat. The head of the IMF office in Tirana, Volker Treichel, told Reuters last week that the IMF postponed a board meeting scheduled for 8 February in Washington meant to approve $30 million in aid for Albania.

The World Bank's country manager for Albania, Eugene Scanteie, is warning that $70 million earmarked for three development schemes also is at risk. The World Bank said the amounts of these allocations are not set in stone.

During an interview with RFE/RL, Scanteie reconfirmed the World Bank's commitment -- through its International Development Association (IDA) -- to support Albania's development efforts. The IDA provides long-term loans at zero percent interest to the poorest of developing countries.

Scanteie said: "As concerns the IDA credits scheduled for board consideration by June 2002, we should stress that their appraisal, negotiation, and eventual approval depend on Albania's ability to continue its previous good performance. The World Bank technical teams are working hard, together with the competent authorities, to bring these projects to the board on schedule. Some of these teams are currently in Tirana. We hope the current government crisis could be quickly resolved, so economic matters could again receive the attention they deserve. We are determined to work closely with the government to continue supporting Albania's development and poverty reduction efforts."

Albania has received some $570 million in loans since 1991. By 2000, per capita earnings in the country had more than quadrupled to almost $1,100 a year. However, various initiatives in the region have recently lost momentum, such as the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe.

Berisha says the decisions by the IMF and the World Bank are "bitter signs of the country's economic decline."

"I believe [the WB and IMF warnings] are very, very serious, and they should be taken and considered very seriously by Albanian authorities because neither the WB nor the IMF and no other financial institution could work in a country where there is no government and where the crisis is deepening every day."

Petro Koci, a senior official in the Socialist Party, says the decisions of the World Bank and the IMF will not harm Albania's economic future but its political image. Koci told reporters the Meta cabinet should be blamed for this.

"The delays made in resolving this crisis, caused by the incoherent reaction of Prime Minister Meta, will, of course, have temporary consequences."

Geert-Hinrich Ahrens is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's ambassador to Albania. He says Albania needs a stable government as soon as possible.

"It is quite clear this country needs a stable government. If you read what the World Bank or IMF or the others have to say in the last days, you see that there are worries that Albania suffers from the situation, which we have. I would not go beyond that because as I always said we do not deal with persons, we deal with institutions. And one of the institutions is a stable government. That is, indeed, needed now, at this moment, in the interest of all Albanians. I don't say Albania is without institutions, but Albania is without a clearly focused strong central government, which Albania needs."

All parties have called on Meidani to enact a constitutional solution to the crisis. But presidential spokesman Mentor Nazarko told reporters that Meidani has done his best by asking the ruling coalition to speed up its efforts in creating a new cabinet.

Nazarko says that, according to the constitution, the president is not entitled to impose deadlines on the majority.