CIS-CHINESE BORDER AGREEMENT SIGNED
Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met in Moscow today to sign an agreement reducing military forces in a 200 km zone along the CIS-Chinese border. According to Yeltsin, the agreement follows "seven years of cautious negotiations." It is unclear, however, whether the accord provides for a reduction in forces or maintains those forces at their present strength. A Chinese Foreign Minister official is quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying that "not one of our soldiers will be withdrawn from the border." According to Russian military and diplomatic sources, the CIS signatory countries are permitted to keep a total of 3,900 tanks on the border (Russia's quota is 3,810). The Chinese are also allowed 3,900 tanks, but sources in Beijing say China will not fulfill its quota as it has long ceased keeping large forces on the CIS border, Interfax reported.
CHECHEN AIR DEFENSE TO SHOOT DOWN INTRUDING AIRCRAFT
As of today, Chechnya's air defense has been ordered to shoot down all aircraft that violate Chechen airspace, Russian agencies reported. Vice President Vakha Arsanov said on Chechen TV yesterday that the decision was prompted by the increasing number of unsanctioned flights by Russian military aircraft over Chechen territory. He said the flights jeopardize the signing of a peace treaty with Russia.
NEMTSOV APPOINTED FUEL AND ENERGY MINISTER
Yeltsin has appointed First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov to run the Fuel and Energy Ministry, ITAR-TASS reports today. Nemtsov replaces Petr Rodionov, who was considered close to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and who resigned earlier this month. In a nationwide radio address today, Yeltsin appealed to governors, mayors, and other senior officials to appoint more young people because of "the novelty of their decisions, the boldness of their approaches, and the originality of their ideas." Yeltsin also told Chernomyrdin not to be afraid of young people, who, he said, "do not have time for intrigues." Chernomyrdin is 59 years old, while Nemtsov and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais are 37 and 41, respectively. Yeltsin resumes his vacation in Sochi today.
DISPUTE OVER TAX COLLECTION FIGURES
State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok says 47 trillion rubles ($8.2 billion) in taxes were collected during the first quarter of 1997, Interfax reported yesterday. Depending on the type of tax, revenues were between 39% and 66% of government targets. Pochinok said he hoped to raise collection rates to 90% by this summer. However, Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov yesterday accused the State Tax Service of manipulating the statistics, Reuters reported. Kulikov said debt cancellations to offset owed taxes amounted to 44% of tax revenues during the first quarter, but the offsets are being registered as collected funds.
GOVERNMENT COMMISSION SLAMS HEAD OF FEDERAL ROAD FUND
The government's Temporary Extraordinary Commission for Tax Collection and Budget Discipline slammed Deputy Transport Minister Anatolii Nasonov for incompetence, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. An inspection carried out in 17 Russian regions revealed that 700 billion rubles ($122 million) from the Federal Road Fund, which Nasonov supervises, did not reach the projects for which the funds had been earmarked. In addition, more than 200 commercial banks were involved in distributing the road fund allocations. The commission decided to set up a new division within the Transport Ministry to monitor the use of funds earmarked for road construction and repairs.
DUMA PASSES LAW ON ROAD FUNDS...
By a vote of 280 to 17 with 3 abstentions, the State Duma yesterday passed a new version of the law on road funds, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the law, federal and regional road funds may be spent on highways outside cities. Subcontractors must be selected by competitive bidding. The new version allows Moscow and St. Petersburg, which have the status of Russian Federation subjects, to use road funds for work on major highways. An earlier version of the law, vetoed by Yeltsin, called for diverting all road taxes gathered in Moscow and St. Petersburg to federal coffers, prompting protests from Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev.
...AND LAW ON FREE ECONOMIC ZONES
The Duma yesterday voted by 250 to 5 to pass a law on free economic zones, Russian news agencies reported. Under the law, the government has the right to establish several types of free economic zones on Russian territory. Special benefits include tax breaks for companies operating in the zones and exemption from customs tariffs. Nineteen free economic zones have been created in Russia, but only Yantar in Kaliningrad Oblast and Nakhodka in Primorskii Krai have begun operations. Earlier this month, Russian officials agreed that subsidiaries of South Korean companies in Nakhodka will be exempt from taxes for eight years after they begin to make profits, according to ITAR-TASS.
TERRORIST ATTACKS IN NORTH CAUCASUS
Three people were killed and 12 injured when a bomb exploded at Armavir railroad station last night, Russian agencies reported. Authorities have launched a criminal investigation, while Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov has denied any Chechen involvement. Meanwhile, Ingushetian First Deputy Interior Minister Rashid Aushev and his driver were killed yesterday when unknown assailants opened fire on their car.
NIZHNII NOVGOROD LEGISLATURE WON'T RESCIND SALES TAX
The legislature of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast has defied a Constitutional Court ruling and a presidential decree by refusing to rescind a 3% sales tax, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported yesterday. Instead, deputies voted to suspend the tax. The oblast's procurator, Aleksandr Fedotov, urged deputies to revoke the tax once and for all, arguing that they had no legal authority to dispute a Constitutional Court ruling. However, legislator Boris Dukhan pointed out that the oblast is currently about 30 billion rubles in debt. He argued that the sales tax should not be revoked until an alternative source of revenue is found.
KRASNOYARSK LEGISLATURE REJECTS REFERENDUM ON NUCLEAR PLANT
The Krasnoyarsk Krai legislature has rejected an initiative to hold a referendum on banning the construction of a nuclear waste processing plant, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The first part of the plant, which stores spent nuclear fuel, has already been built in Krasnoyarsk-26, and the Ministry of Atomic Energy has decided to continue construction despite public protests. Although supporters of the referendum collected 100,000 signatures, the legislature decided not to schedule a referendum until a commission of ecological experts inspecting the plant reached a conclusion. Last December, voters in Kostroma Oblast passed a referendum by an overwhelming margin to halt construction of a nuclear power station.
TUMANOV ELECTED TO EUROPEAN COURT
Former Constitutional Court Chairman Vladimir Tumanov has been elected to the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported yesterday. Tumanov will be the first Russian to serve on the court. He quit the Constitutional Court a few months after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
DEBAKEY RECEIVES AWARD
U.S. cardiologist Michael DeBakey has received the Outstanding World Surgeon award from the Russian Military-Medical Academy in St. Petersburg, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. DeBakey, who pioneered bypass surgery, was a consultant to Yeltsin last fall before the president's heart operation. He said he would return to the U.S. immediately after receiving the award and did not plan to see Yeltsin in Moscow. Asked why Yeltsin appeared fatigued last week during his visit to Germany, DeBakey told reporters that the president had been recovering from the flu but "his heart is perfectly normal," Reuters reported.
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT IN BAKU
Askar Akayev and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, signed a treaty on friendship and cooperation in Baku yesterday, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Akayev reiterated his interest in using the Transcaucasian transport corridor, for which his country has been granted a 50% reduction in tariffs, and noted that Kyrgyzstan wants to purchase crude oil and petrochemicals from Azerbaijan. A dozen or so intergovernmental agreements on economic, financial, and legal cooperation were also signed.
FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRIME MINISTER CHARGED
Gazi Mamedov, the lawyer of former Azerbaijani Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, told journalists in Baku yesterday that his client has been charged with large-scale embezzlement and with "exceeding his authority," Turan reported. The Azerbaijani leadership has accused Huseinov of planning a coup against President Heidar Aliyev in October 1994 and of drug smuggling. Criminal charges, however, have not yet been brought against him. Last month, Huseinov was extradited to Baku from the Russian Federation where he had been living since late 1994.
GEORGIA'S SOCIAL DEMOCRATS PROPOSE FRONTIER CHANGES
The Social Democratic Party wants President Eduard Shevardnadze to take advantage of Georgia's harmonious relations with Azerbaijan by asking President Aliyev to return Saingilo to Georgia, BS-Press reported yesterday. The Saingilo region comprises three raions on Azerbaijan's northern frontier that were part of the former kingdom of eastern Georgia. During the 1980s, Saingilo's Georgian population compiled samizdat documentation protesting discrimination by the Azerbaijani authorities.
MAJOR OVERHAUL OF KAZAK CIVIL SERVICE
Erjan Outiembayev, chairman of the Kazak National Strategic Planning Agency, announced yesterday that the number of civil servants will be cut by half before year's end, AFP reported. Outiembayev noted that Kazakstan has a population of 16.5 million and 1 million civil servants, which he called "too many." Meanwhile, a presidential decree has incorporated Taldy Korgan Oblast into Almaty Oblast and divided Torgay Oblast into two. One half has merged with Akmola Oblast and the other with Kostanay Oblast, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. The moves are part of the government's bid to streamline administration.
Turkmenistan's Foreign Economic Bank has signed a credit agreement with the Islamic Development Bank to build an oil tanker, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The tanker has a water displacement of 5,000 tons and will cost some $11 million.
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT IN VIETNAM
Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Vietnamese President Le Duc Anh in Hanoi yesterday to discuss a friendship pact and ways to boost economic relations. Bilateral trade between Vietnam and Belarus totaled just $14.5 million last year. Belarus buys natural rubber, coffee, tea, and textiles from Vietnam and exports tires and mining machinery. An agreement on eliminating double taxation between the two countries is expected to be signed. Lukashenka is also scheduled to meet with Communist Party Secretary-General Do Muo before traveling to Ho Chi Minh City today. His visit to Vietnam is the first by a Belarusian president since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1992.
BELARUS MAY RESTRICT TELEPHONE USE
The Ministry of Communications may outlaw private telephone lines used "contrary to state interests and public order," Belapan reported yesterday. Provisions for switching off such lines have been added to the ministry's set of regulations governing phone use. The ministry is currently reviewing the status of all phone lines in the country. Meanwhile, a conference on cooperation among law enforcement agencies of CIS members opened today in Minsk, ITAR-TASS reported. Among the participants are representatives of CIS Interior and Justice Ministries.
UKRAINE SAYS IT HAS SPENT $14 BILLION ON CHORNOBYL CLEANUP
Ukrainian Deputy Emergencies Minister Volodymyr Potikha says Ukraine has spent $14 billion over the last five years to deal with the consequences of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. Potikha told journalists yesterday that Ukraine's expenditures on Chornobyl are several times more than the West can offer in aid. Western governments have pledged $1.3 billion to help close the station by 2000. Potikha also said that over the past decade, Ukraine has spent 6% of each year's national budget to clean up and contain the damage from the disaster. Meanwhile, Olga Babilova, head of the Health Ministry's radiology department, told reporters yesterday in Kyiv that 772 children have developed thyroid cancer since the Chornobyl catastrophe. Forty cases were registered last year alone.
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BRUSSELS
Toomas Hendrik Ilves told the North Atlantic Council yesterday that "Baltic membership in NATO is the best means to signal to both Western [and] CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE that the Cold War is truly over," BNS reported. Ilves stressed that it is in Tallinn's interests to support the security and independence of Ukraine. Addressing the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament on 22 April, Ilves said that while Estonia would not object if Latvia and Lithuania were accepted into the EU first, it would be best if all three Baltic countries became EU members simultaneously. He again warned against attempts to decide EU expansion on the basis of geopolitical considerations.
ESTONIA, LATVIA, RUSSIA AGREE ON BORDER CONVERGENCE
Delegations from Estonia, Latvia, and Russia met in the Russian town of Pskov on 22 April and initialed an agreement on the convergence of their borders, BNS reported yesterday. Estonian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Indrek Tarand, who headed the Estonian delegation, said there was no discussion about Moscow's desire to add a clause about the three-way border convergence to the Estonian-Russian border treaty. Estonia regards the text of the Estonian-Russian treaty agreed on last November as final and says Russia's insistence on further talks are intended to delay signing the document.
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS REFUGEE STATUS LAW
The Lithuanian parliament has amended the law ratifying the 1951 Geneva convention on refugee status and the 1967 New York protocol on refugee status, BNS reported yesterday. Following ratification in January of the Geneva convention, Lithuania had to choose between two categories of "refugees." At the suggestion of President Algirdas Brazauskas, the parliament chose the broader of the two categories, which includes victims of conflicts worldwide. Lithuania must now deposit the convention with the secretary-general of the United Nations. by 1 May, when visa requirements with Sweden are eliminated. The convention will go into effect in Lithuania some 90 days after deposition of the convention at the UN.
CZECH PRESIDENT IN BONN TO MAKE HISTORIC SPEECH
Vaclav Havel will address the Bundestag in Bonn today on the recently signed Czech-German declaration of reconciliation. German President Roman Herzog is scheduled to visit Prague next week and address the Czech parliament. The declaration was signed by Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on 21 January and approved by their respective parliaments a few weeks later.
CZECH POLICE CHARGE ELEVEN IN AGROBANKA CASE
Eleven people were charged yesterday with crimes related to the Agrobanka case. CTK quoted police as saying they are accused of embezzlement, aiding and abetting embezzlement, and breaking economic legislation. Agrobanka, the largest Czech private financial institution, was put under forced administration by the Czech National Bank last September. The auditor estimated Agrobanka's losses at the time at some 10 billion crowns (more than $330 million).
SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH ALBRIGHT
U.S.Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Slovak Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik in Washington yesterday to discuss Bratislava's goal of integrating into Western political, security, and economic structures, TASR reported. No details have been released. Before the meeting, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Washington has been concerned about various aspects of Slovakia's democratic reform process. But, he said, Slovakia has made impressive economic progress. He also praised the country's contributions to peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and eastern Slavonia.
SLOVAK OPPOSITION DENOUNCES SUSPENSION OF REFERENDUM
Slovak opposition leaders say the government's 22 April decision to suspend a referendum on direct presidential elections is illegal, RFE/RL's Slovak service reports. The government wants the Constitutional Court to rule whether the constitution can be changed by a plebiscite. Democratic Union deputy chairman Ludovit Cernak, Christian Democratic Movement deputy chairman Ivan Simkom, and ethnic Hungarian leader Bela Bugar told journalists that the opposition will take countermeasures if the government blocks the referendum. Premier Vladimir Meciar said on Slovak TV yesterday that the constitution can be changed only by the parliament, not by a referendum. He also said he would not advise Slovaks how to vote in the referendum on NATO membership.
SLOVAKIA TO INTRODUCE IMPORT DEPOSITS
Slovakia will introduce a system of import deposits similar to that announced by the Czech Republic last week. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Sergei Kozlik told a press conference in Bratislava yesterday that the decision is aimed at countering the possible impact of the Czech decision on the Slovak economy. The measures, which will go into effect on 1 May, require importers of consumer goods to deposit 20% of the imported goods' value with a bank; the money will be returned six months later. Kozlik said the Slovak cabinet will also introduce quotas on the imports of selected agricultural, food, and industrial products.
BULGARIA'S ODS NOMINATES KOSTOV AS PREMIER
The Union of Democratic Forces (ODS) today nominated party leader Ivan Kostov as prime minister, Bulgarian Radio reported. The nomination must be approved by the new parliament, which is expected to convene on 5 May. Meanwhile, the final returns of the 19 April parliamentary elections show the ODS won 52.2% of the vote and will have 137 seats in the 240-seat legislature, RFE/RL's Bulgarian service reported yesterday. It is followed by the former ruling Socialist Party with 22% (58 seats); the Union for National Salvation, whose largest member is the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, with 7.6% (19 seats); the Euroleft party, which includes many Socialist dissidents, with 5.6% (14 seats), and the populist Bulgarian Business Bloc with 4.9% (12 seats).
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES COUNCIL OF EUROPE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY
Addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg yesterday, Petar Stoyanov said Bulgaria has made an "irrevocable choice" in favor of reforms and democracy and put an end to the previous "tactics of imitation of reforms." Stoyanov said that in the past few months, a "new social contract" has emerged between the people and the government. He pledged to be the "guarantor of the human rights of all Bulgarian citizens" and to fight "any forms of racial intolerance, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism." Stoyanov also told the assembly that "democracy cannot be established once and for all" and needs to be "mastered and rediscovered by every generation."
INTERNATIONAL FORCE SHUNS CONTACT WITH ALBANIAN REBELS
Gen. Luciano Forlani, the commander of the Italian-led multinational troops, said in Tirana yesterday that the 6,000-strong force is expected to be entirely in place within 10 days. Forlani added that the troops have secured Tirana airport and the key ports of Durres and Vlora. He also said his forces will not have contacts with the rebel committees that control much of southern Albania. President Sali Berisha wants the committees dissolved as a precondition for elections and strongly objects to foreigners or the Albanian government treating those bodies as legitimate negotiating partners. The rebels say that anyone who ignores the committees is, in effect, supporting Berisha. Meanwhile, Leka Zogu, the claimant to the throne, visits Vlora today. It is unclear whether he will have direct talks with the rebel committees.
CROATIA TRIES YUGOSLAV GENERAL FOR WAR CRIMES
The Zadar county court on 22 April resumed the trial in absentia of federal Yugoslav army commander Gen. Momcilo Perisic and 18 other officers on charges of war crimes in the Zadar area during fall 1991, when at least 30 civilians died and 120 cultural monuments were destroyed. At the time, Perisic was in command of an artillery unit in the historical coastal town. The prosecution says he personally directed the attack and explicitly ordered the shelling of civilian targets, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zadar.
CROATIAN ELECTION UPDATE
Election officials said in Zagreb yesterday that President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) received the largest number of votes of any single party or coalition in the race for the city council. The HDZ edged out an opposition coalition for first place by just half a percentage point. The HDZ will have 24 seats, the opposition coalition 23, and the Croatian Peasants' Party three. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court ruled that the election for the Pakrac council, in western Slavonia, will have to be repeated within two weeks. The Independent Democratic Serbian Party asked for another vote because the names of its council candidates did not appear on the original ballot, Nasa Borba reported today.
UN'S OGATA CALLS FOR SOLUTION TO BOSNIAN REFUGEE PROBLEM
Sadako Ogata, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said in Geneva yesterday that foreign governments must find a "durable solution" to the situation of the 8l5,000 Bosnian refugees. She said that 90,000 Bosnians went home last year and that another 410,000 have permanent residence in other countries. But she said the future is uncertain for those who are still refugees but added that 200,000 may go back to Bosnia this year. Ogata also pointed out that at least half of the refugees cannot return to their homes because they are located in areas under the control of another ethnic group.
IS BOSNIAN MUSLIM LEADERSHIP CONSIDERING PARTITION?
The Sarajevo magazine Dani suggests in its ?? April issue that the Muslim leadership has given up on the idea of a unified state and is considering a three-way division of the country. The maps shown in Dani and some other Sarajevo newspapers indicate that Muslim leaders might seek additional territories from the Croats and especially from the Serbs. Muslims would like to receive land west of Brcko currently controlled by the Serbs. The main Serbian and Croatian parties favor an ethnic division, but each has its own terms for such an option. Any demands for a significant revision of the territorial provisions of the Dayton agreement could lead to a new war.
BILDT REJECTS IZETBEGOVIC'S CHARGES ON DAYTON AGREEMENT
The office of High Representative Carl Bildt announced in Sarajevo yesterday that the international community is not responsible for the delays and other problems in carrying out the Dayton agreement, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. Bildt's statement came in response to charges by Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim chairman of the joint presidency, that Bosnia is falling apart and that the international community is to blame (see RFE/RL Newsline, 22 April 1997). Also in Sarajevo, the "shadow government," which consists of 10 opposition parties drawn from both entities, warned yesterday that social and economic problems are assuming dangerous dimensions.
SERBIAN OPPOSITION MAY TAKE TO STREETS AGAIN
Vuk Draskovic, the presidential candidate of the Zajedno coalition, said in Belgrade on 22 April that the opposition will call for street protests if the governing Socialists to not agree by 28 June to pass a new election law and to give the opposition access to state media. Also in Belgrade, former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic is about to announce his membership in Zajedno, according to Nasa Borba today. Meanwhile in Novi Sad, the opposition Vojvodina coalition says it cannot support Draskovic for the Serbian presidency. Coalition spokesmen called him a Serbian nationalist who is using the presidential campaign to promote plans to restore the former Karadjordjevic dynasty.
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON TREATY WITH UKRAINE
Adrian Severin says he hopes the Romanian- Ukrainian treaty will be signed on 3 May, the independent Mediafax news agency reported yesterday. Severin, who is currently in the U.S. to promote Romania's early entry into NATO, said he has received an invitation from his Ukrainian counterpart, Hennadii Udovenko, to visit Kyiv. It is widely believed that the conclusion of the treaty with Ukraine will boost Romania's chances of early admission into NATO.
ROMANIAN PREMIER ON IMF LOAN
Victor Ciorbea says the IMF stand-by loan to Romania is a "green light" to foreign investors, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported yesterday. Ciorbea told journalists in the Romanian capital that the loan, which was granted on 22 April, proves his government has a "credible program." He noted that Romania cannot meet the costs of reforms by itself and needs the support of international financial organizations. Meanwhile, foreign investments in Romania grew by 35% in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period last year, and now total $ 2.3 billion, according to figures released by the Romanian National Agency for Development.
TRANSDNIESTER LEADER THREATENS TO POSTPONE SIGNING OF MEMORANDUM
Igor Smirnov says the signing of the memorandum between Chisinau and Tiraspol may have to be postponed, BASA-press reported. The document, which was agreed on under Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's mediation earlier this month, is due to be signed on 8 May in Moscow. Smirnov said yesterday that he may postpone signing because "Ukraine intends to introduce changes in the document." He added that Chisinau and OSCE officials are also demanding amendments to the document. Ukraine, which is a guarantor of the memorandum, says it has reservations about some of its provisions (see RFE/RL Newsline, 23 April 1997).
Albania Prepares For Elections
by Fabian Schmidt
With elections scheduled for late June, Albania's political parties are getting ready for the ballot. The recent crisis has rapidly changed the country's political landscape, making it difficult to predict the ballot's outcome. Most voters in previous elections supported either the Democrats or the Socialists, but the electorate may now look for other options. Leka Zogu, claimant to the throne and son of Albania's last king, is one such option.
When Sali Berisha was voted president in 1992, the political scene was divided into two main camps. The Socialist Party, reformed heirs to the communist Party of Labor, was the largest opposition party. Berisha's ruling Democratic Party brought together politicians of all stripes, with many of its members coming from the student movement that helped bring about the end of communism. But since then, the Democrats have evolved into a conservative party with a strong anti-communist platform and a clear identification with Berisha. Several former high-ranking Democrats have left the party, criticizing Berisha for his authoritarian rule.
Today, Albania's political scene is much more diversified. There are a large number of small conservative parties, but they have failed to formulate a common policy and join forces. The Republican Party, a former coalition partner of the Democrats, offers a nationalist platform calling for minimal state influence over the private sector. The tiny Christian Democratic Party has support mainly among the North's Catholic communities and in Shkoder. In the middle of the political spectrum, the Social Democrats and the Democratic Alliance have formed the Center Pole coalition.
An important factor in the upcoming elections will be the election law. The current legislation provides for direct rather than proportional representation, which puts the smaller parties at a disadvantage. The Democrats won more than 80% of parliamentary seats in last year's elections, even though they received only just over half of the votes nationwide. Much thus depends on whether a new election law goes into force before the June ballot.
Another major factor will be the impact of the recent crisis. Since many Albanians are deeply disappointed with Berisha, the Democrats can expect heavy losses and the Socialists significant gains. The Socialists have a strong traditional base, and Socialist leader Fatos Nano has remolded the party into a Western-oriented, social-democratic formation. Moreover, Socialist Bashkim Fino's appointment as interim premier has given the reform-minded Socialists positive publicity and the chance to present themselves in a better light.
But there are many disenchanted former Democratic Party supporters who, under no circumstances, would back the Socialists. They are more likely to opt for the Center Pole coalition, which puts stress on civil liberties and on a constitution providing for a strong parliament to replace the current presidential system. Some may also vote for the conservative parties.
In the south of the country, which is still largely controlled by rebel committees, the election results are even more difficult to predict. Last year's ballot gave the Democrats solid majorities there. But the Socialist Party has traditionally had its support base in the south, and Fino, who is a southerner, and other Socialists are on good terms with some rebel committees.
Given that many conservative voters throughout the country are likely to be looking for other options, Leka Zogu, who recently returned to the country, has a unique opportunity to push ahead with his idea of re-establishing the monarchy. Even though his Legality party has failed to gain entry to the parliament in the past, Zogu may now have realistic chances of winning the planned referendum on the future form of government--monarchy, presidential republic, or parliamentary republic--which may take place at the same time as the elections.
Seeking to capitalize on the current crisis, Zogu has recently been touring the country, calling for national reconciliation and peace. He is promoting himself as a padrone who safeguards local and national interests. Moreover, he can project the image not only of a future monarch but also of a savvy, experienced international businessman.