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Albania: Lawmakers Elect Consensus Candidate Moisiu As New President

Albania has a new president today after the country's parliament elected 73-year-old Alfred Moisiu, a former defense minister and current head of the association spearheading Albania's bid to enter NATO. The outcome of yesterday's parliamentary vote was virtually assured after ruling and opposition factions agreed to put forward a single candidate to replace the unpopular incumbent, Rexhep Meidani. Some observers are hailing Moisiu's compromise nomination and election as spelling the end of 12 years of political deadlock.

Tirana, 25 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Albania's parliament yesterday elected former Defense Minister Alfred Moisiu the country's president for the next five years. Moisiu, the sole candidate for the post, won 97 of the 134 votes in the 140-seat parliament. His five-year term will begin in on 24 July, when he will replace current President Rexhep Meidani, who did not make an official bid for re-election.

The decision to put forward a single candidate for the presidential election was made last week in response to chronic political infighting that has left Albania in a political deadlock. The agreement, forged after four days of negotiation, barred from the race the leaders of the country's two main political parties, Fatos Nano of the ruling Socialists and Sali Berisha of the opposition Democrats.

Nano and Berisha backed Moisiu for the presidency after the previous consensus candidate, Artur Kuko, the Albanian envoy to the European Union, turned down the nomination.

Moisiu said the strong support from both sides of the political divide convinced him to accept the nomination. He applauded the consensual-candidate system as a positive sign of change in Albania. "I have been of the opinion that Albanian political parties used to let their partisan interests prevail about the nation's interests. Now it seems they have realized that this was wrong," Moisiu said.

Ahead of yesterday's vote, Moisiu told RFE/RL he had a defined agenda he aimed to pursue if elected. In addition to supporting Albania's further integration into NATO structures, he also said he would work to further unify political forces and establish rule of law. "Let me tell you sincerely, as a citizen of this country, that I would never undertake this burden if both sides didn't ask me to. So I want to support even further the development of an Albanian political consensus, because it's of paramount importance for the future of this country, the future of the nation, and its further integration and development. [As president,] I would focus mainly on stabilizing the Albanian justice system, because too many things depend on that: the fight against corruption, organized crime, clandestine migration, and so on. What is crucial to me is the creation of a climate that will attract foreign investors and fight the unemployment that is forcing young people to leave Albania," Moisiu said.

Albanian political leaders praised the agreement that allowed yesterday's election to proceed with a single compromise candidate, saying it marked a historic change. Democratic leader Berisha voiced his unabashed support for the new system as his long-time rival, majority leader Nano, sat nearby. "We're trying hard to make a radical change, through a process that without a doubt reflects self-correction, that mirrors the consciousness of something that was done improperly in the past but that has to be improved from now on," Berisha said.

For his part, majority leader Nano said he considered the political shift both correct and irrevocable. "I share the same evaluation and stable confidence as Mr. Berisha, our opposition leader, that we have already entered onto an irreversible path of cooperation. This cooperation has full institutional support regarding all of Albania's priorities in terms of national development and Euro-Atlantic integration," Nano said.

Andrea Stefani is the country director of the U.S. International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), which in Albania concentrates on free-press issues. Stefani praised the willingness of ruling and opposition parties to find a common language as a positive achievement. "If all these steps were to be true, if Albanian politics were to continue along this fresh path, it would mean a very positive event has occurred, something that will distance Albanian politics from the psychology of war and confrontation. It will mean a return to the normal parameters of normal [political] competition, of normal pluralism," Stefani said.

Other analysts, however, believe that the dirtier side of Albanian politics, which have been plagued by chronic waves of corruption and infighting, may still keep the country's political parties from enjoying true cooperation for some years to come.