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Newsline - July 1, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin has again vetoed the laws on trophy art and the government, arguing that both houses of the parliament used unconstitutional procedures to override his earlier vetoes, Russian news agencies reported on 30 June. The president objects to proxy voting in the State Duma and the Federation Council's use of ballots mailed by members not attending Council sessions in Moscow. Yeltsin returned the two laws to the parliament in May, shortly after both houses of the parliament overrode his initial vetoes. But the Duma and the Council in June demanded that Yeltsin sign the laws, saying the president lacks the authority to declare parliamentary voting procedures unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May and 11 and 16 June 1997). According to Article 107 of the constitution, the president must sign a law within seven days if both houses of the parliament override his veto.


State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told journalists on 1 July that Yeltsin violated the law on civil service by appointing his daughter Tatyana Dyachenko as an official presidential adviser, ITAR-TASS reported. Seleznev said that law prohibits appointing "close relatives" to state office. Dyachenko told journalists on 30 June that her appointment removes some ambiguity over her position, as she has in fact been advising her father since the 1996 presidential campaign, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Dyachenko commented that she is able to tell the president things that others cannot.


Addressing the political council of the pro-government movement Our Home Is Russia, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin urged the State Duma to hold a special session in July to consider proposed cuts in 1997 budget spending and reductions in social benefits, Russian news agencies reported on 30 June. Chernomyrdin is to meet with Duma Speaker Seleznev on 1 July to discuss interrupting the Duma's summer recess, currently scheduled to last until late August. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev on 30 June warned that the government will not be able to prevent pension arrears from piling up in the future unless the Duma approves proposals to restructure the social benefits system, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Sysuev also promised that the government will not seek to limit payments to working pensioners or to raise the pension age (currently 55 for women and 60 for men).


Chernomyrdin told the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) political council that the entire NDR Duma faction should decide whether to expel Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin from the movement. However, Chernomyrdin criticized Rokhlin's recent open appeal, which slammed Yeltsin's policy toward the armed forces. He called the document a "crude political mistake" that was "based on emotions." Chernomyrdin also called attention to what he called "alarming tendencies" within the NDR Duma faction. He noted that 10 NDR deputies had supported neither the passage of the tax code in the first reading nor government-backed budget cuts and reductions in social benefits. Meanwhile, Duma Speaker Seleznev told Interfax on 30 June that he shares Rokhlin's views about the armed forces. Seleznev predicted that the majority of Duma deputies will not back attempts to remove Rokhlin as Defense Committee chairman.


Yeltsin on 30 June appointed First Deputy Justice Minister Georgii Kulikov as acting justice minister pending the investigation into the scandal surrounding suspended Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov announced on 26 June that his office has begun investigating allegations published in a recent issue of "Sovershenno sekretno" that Kovalev has links to organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 24, and 26 June 1997).


The Railroads Ministry is reducing charges for shipping some types of cargo, effective 1 July, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 June, citing First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. Rates for timber and coal transports will be cut by 50% and produce and oil shipments by 40% and 25%, repsectively. Also as of 1 July, the giant utility Unified Energy System (EES) will accept only cash payments for electricity, according to Boris Brevnov, chairman of the EES board of directors. He told Interfax on 29 June that currently only 7%-8% of electricity consumers pay in cash. Brevnov also confirmed that starting on 1 July, EES will offer a 30% discount for customers that pay their electricity bills on time.


Beginning on 1 July, the sale of all alcoholic beverages except beer will be banned at kiosks, small shops, and wholesale food markets in accordance with a recent presidential decree, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the Federal Service on Providing the State Monopoly on Alcohol Production, some 90% of all violations of laws on alcohol sales take place at such shops. Vladimir Yarmosh, president of the Spirtprom association of alcohol producers, told Interfax that low-quality, black-market alcohol made up almost 80% of spirits sold in Russia during the first four months of 1997. He estimated that such sales cost the state some 15 trillion rubles ($2.6 billion) in lost tax revenues. A 1993 presidential decree requiring the licensing of all alcohol production and sales was never implemented (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 2 January 1997 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 1997).


Yeltsin has sent a congratulatory message to the leadership and people of China on the occasion of the "restoration of China's jurisdiction over Hong Kong," Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said he was confident that Hong Kong will remain a "prosperous financial and economic center in Asia" and will "prove the effectiveness of Deng Xioaping's 'one country-two systems' formula."


A Russian consortium attempting to win a tender for helping to build China's Three Gorges hydroelectric project is facing problems, according to Interfax on 30 June. The Three Gorges is a massive dam project aimed at providing China with power and taming the Yangtze River. China will spend up to $10 billion on equipment for the dam and plans to buy 14 generators for the dam from foreign companies. China says the Russian bid is too high and has requested the Russians lower their price without reducing the quality of their equipment. Russia has already spent an estimated $500,000 on participating in the tender. The results are expected to be announced in August. The Russian consortium is composed of Energomashexport, Leningrad Metal Works, Elektrosila, Gidroproekt, Technopromexport, Transmash, and Traktoroexport.


"Izvestiya" has clashed with its largest shareholder, the oil company LUKoil, over the way a new editor-in-chief for the paper will be appointed. In an unsigned commentary published on 1 July, "Izvestiya" accused LUKoil of failing to respect the charter it recently signed with the paper's journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 1997). The charter grants journalists the right to propose a candidate for editor-in-chief, who may be either confirmed or rejected by the board of directors. "Izvestiya" says LUKoil is now insisting that each of the paper's major shareholders--LUKoil, the journalists, and Oneksimbank--propose a candidate and that the board choose an editor from among the three nominees. The seven-member "Izvestiya" board of directors elected on 23 June consists of three representatives from LUKoil and two members each from Oneksimbank and the journalists' collective.


Russian and Chechen delegations, headed by First Deputy Premiers Anatolii Chubais and Movladi Udugov, met for five hours in Moscow on 30 June, Russian media reported. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, who also attended the talks, told ITAR-TASS that Chechnya will be an independent third party to the agreement concluded between Moscow and Baku on exporting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya to Novorossiisk. Azerbaijan has said there is no need for a separate agreement with Chechnya. Udugov commented that progress was made at the 30 July talks toward concluding an amended customs agreement and an accord whereby Chechnya will have a correspondent account with Russia's Central Bank. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev is due in Moscow on 2 July.


Lawyers representing retired Navy captain Aleksandr Nikitin say their client cannot hope to receive a fair trial given the new charges brought against him by the Federal Security Service (FSB), RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 30 June. Nikitin was arrested in February 1996 for allegedly revealing state secrets to the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, which was preparing a report on radioactive contamination of the Kola Peninsula. He was released from pre-trial detention in December after promising not to leave St. Petersburg. Lawyer Yurii Shmidt said that the FSB is seeking to maximize Nikitin's possible prison term by charging him with treason under the new Criminal Code, which took effect in January 1997 and allows longer prison sentences for treason. At the same time, the FSB is charging Nikitin with revealing state secrets under the old Criminal Code, which carries harsher penalties for that crime.


Some 400 workers from an enterprise in Primorskii Krai that repairs nuclear submarines blocked the Trans-Siberian Railroad for two hours on 1 July, Russian news agencies reported. The workers have not received their wages for several months and are demanding that the Defense Ministry pay for a state order that the factory has fulfilled. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Gelbakh, a spokesman for the Primorskii Krai utility Dalenergo, warned that on 1 July Dalenergo will cut off electricity to all its debtors, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 June. Gelbakh said no exceptions would be made for any enterprises or facilities, not even for hospitals or schools. In 1996, a Russian woman died during an operation when power was cut to the hospital where the surgery was being performed.


"Izvestiya" reported on 1 July that Russian arms shipments to Armenia between 1994-1996 were sanctioned by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Earlier press reports claimed that Armenia received weaponry worth $1 billion free of charge. But according to "Izvestiya," cash received in payment from Yerevan was channeled into Russian election campaigning and that, for this reason, virtually all factions in the Russian State Duma have advocated curtailing the ongoing investigation into the scandal. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov met with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan in Yerevan on 30 June to discuss cooperation in nuclear power technology, rail transport, and banking, Interfax reported. Serov invited Ter-Petrossyan on behalf of Russian President Boris Yeltsin to visit Moscow in late August. Ter-Petrossyan also met with Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev to discuss an unspecified proposed joint venture.


Anatolii Rybalchenko, a senior counselor at the Russian embassy in Yerevan, was killed on 30 June in a fall from the fourth floor of his apartment building, Western agencies reported. Rybalchenko was attempting to climb into the window of his apartment after locking himself out.


Addressing a regional meeting of the ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement in the town of Gyumri on 29 June, Ter-Petrossyan endorsed the candidacy of controversial Yerevan mayor Vano Siradeghyan as chairman of the movement's board, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Observers have predicted that the movement may split at its upcoming ninth congress, which begins on 11 July. The conservatives are likely to back Siradeghyan and the reformists may break away to create a new party headed by Eduard Yegoryan (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 1997). Ter-Petrossyan expressed his respect for Yegoryan but said he has made "too many mistakes for an experienced political actor," according to ARMENPRESS. Ter-Petrossyan has consistently advocated the evolution of the movement into a "new, civilized, powerful center-right party of the European type."


A raion police chief in Baku has denied claims that police used force to disperse a 28 June meeting of Azerbaijan's banned Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 30 June 1997), Reuters reported. He said that party leader Ramiz Akhmedov was merely "invited for a conversation with police officials," who told him the meeting was illegal as permission to hold it had been granted only for 29 June. Interfax the next day quoted Akhmedov as saying that he was detained and mistreated by police for three hours and that all documentation about the congress was confiscated. He also said that the congress delegates reconvened at a secret venue on 29 June.


The number of refugees who have crossed from Afghanistan into Turkmenistan is now estimated at 8,000, according to Reuters on 30 June. It was recently reported that some 4,000 refugees fleeing the fighting in northern Afghanistan had crossed the border into Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 1997). The Turkmen government and the Red Cross have received assurances from Afghanistan's Taliban movement that the refugees can return safely to their homes.


Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 30 June responded to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov's statement that Russian security is threatened by a survey being carried out in Kazakstan by a U.S. Orion P-30 aircraft, RFE/RL correspondents in Kazakstan and the Russian press reported. The U.S. plane is surveying regions in Kazakstan to identify areas of possible agricultural development or mineral exploitation. When the plane began flying over the Semipalatinsk region, near the Kazak-Russian border, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its alarm. Nazarbayev said surveys in that area were needed to assess damage caused by nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk site during the Soviet era and to see "what sort of economic activity can be pursued" there. He added that the surveys would not be necessary if Moscow had been more willing to share its information on nuclear tests at the site.


RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports that the 30 June demonstration by homeless people in front of the government building in Bishkek came in the wake of the harassment by the militia of people living in a "shanty town" on the western outskirts of the capital. On 25 June, four members of the militia warned one of the activists to stop attending protest meetings. They grabbed her by the arm and attempted to take her away, but her cries were heard by neighbors, whose appearance prompted the militia to leave. Two days later, 20 members of the militia arrived in the shanty town and took away another activist, Nadir Nusubaliev, about whom nothing has since been heard. One of the demands made by the more than 1,000 demonstrators on 30 June. was information on Nusubaliev's whereabouts.


Sergei Yastrzhembskii, the spokesman for Russian President Boris Yeltsin, told journalists in Moscow on 30 June that the last Russian strategic forces have left Belarus. He said that the last missiles were formally removed from Belarusian territory in November. Yeltsin has sent Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a message noting that the two countries have fulfilled their international obligations. Under international arms control treaties, Russia has taken over the nuclear arsenals of all the former Soviet republics. Yastrzhembskii said the SS-25 Topol (Poplar) missile systems taken from Belarus will continue to serve in Russia for the defense of both countries, which have a mutual defense treaty.


Environment and Nuclear Safety Minister Yuri Kostenko Ukraine told journalists in Kyiv on 30 June that $300 million pledged by the Group of Seven major industrialized countries to shut down the Chornobyl nuclear power plant is not enough. Kostenko said Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and U.S. Vice President Al Gore will chair a conference of donor nations in the fall to confirm or revise the plan for shutting down the plant. Under a memorandum signed by the G-7 countries and Ukraine, Kyiv is to close the plant by 2000 with sufficient Western support. Kostenko said that Ukraine will need at least $500-600 million to ensure the safety of the plant's destroyed reactor.


Vaclav Havel met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 30 June to discuss economic cooperation and European security. Havel hailed Ukraine's favorable stance toward NATO expansion and was quoted by Interfax as welcoming the charter Ukraine plans to sign with NATO at the Madrid summit later this month. Kuchma said that the strategic goal of Ukraine is integration into the EU. Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksander Moroz, however, criticized the planned expansion of NATO at his meeting with Havel. He argued such a step is aimed against Ukraine, "Lidove noviny" reported. Havel and Kuchma signed agreements on cooperation in nuclear energy and industry, on avoiding double taxation, and on joint efforts in fighting crime and drug-trafficking.


Dainis Turlais resigned on 30 June over the tragic accident at a firefighters' celebration two days earlier in the western town of Talsi, which killed eight children and injured some 20 others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1997), BNS reported. Prime Minister Andris Skele, who cut short a vacation in Britain to oversee the investigation into the accident, accepted Turlais's resignation. The interior minister said he felt "morally responsible" for what had happened at Talsi. Also on 30 June, Firefighting and Rescue Service head Juris Labis handed in his resignation. ITAR-TASS quoted Deputy Prime Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs as saying that it appeared that the firefighters had breached elementary safety rules. President Guntis Ulmanis has visited Talsi to meet with the relatives of the victims and with the injured.


Under the chairmanship of President Algirdas Brazauskas, the State Defense Council on 30 June decided to deploy army units closer to Lithuania's 650-km border with Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the Lithuanian presidential press service. Speakers at the meeting noted that large numbers of illegal immigrants seeking to reach the West enter Lithuania through its eastern border. Parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis expressed concern about the large number of illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa who enter Lithuania. He commented "this is becoming a dangerous phenomenon and threatens to destabilize the situation in the country." Also on 30 June, the parliament passed a law defining the legal status of those who were ""illegally persecuted by the occupational forces of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union." Such legal status will enable those people to social welfare and other benefits.


Polish Defense Minister Stanislav Dobrzanski and Turkish General Staff deputy chief Cevik Bir signed a military agreement in Ankara on 30 June aimed at cooperation in education, technology, and science, dpa reported. The two officials told journalists that the agreement defines the scope and principles of mutual cooperation. It provides for cooperation in military training, logistics and logistical systems, the defense industry, research, budget programming and planning, as well as aviation and maritime technology exchange.


The ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has been accused of using a song to launch its election campaign that sounds like a number by the Australian band Men at Work, Reuters reported. The copyright owners, the Polish representatives of Sony Music International, said they have heard reports that the melody resembles that of a song performed by the Australian band. Sony also said the SLD has not applied for permission to use the melody. Dariusz Klimaczewski, the spokesman for the SLD, commented if there were any doubts about the song, it would not be used in the campaign.


Following his meeting in Prague on 30 June with Czech Senate Chairman Petr Pithart, Slovak Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) chairman Jan Carnogursky told journalists he did not rule out sitting at the negotiating table with Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar. "We do not reject talks, but we want them to be well prepared or else they would be pointless and this would just deceive the public." Frantisek Miklosko, the leader of the KDH parliamentary caucus, told Pithart that the recently formed Blue Coalition, an alliance of five opposition parties, will "almost certainly be victorious in Slovakia's next elections." Pithart noted, however, that the coalition has been unable to come to an agreement on a leader and future premier. Also on 30 June, official invitations to round-table talks were sent from Meciar to parliamentary party leaders, the Slovak daily "Pravda" reported. The talks are slated to take place on 4 July.


The Hungarian Television and Radio Commission has granted national television licenses to two Western-led consortia. One consortium is headed by CLT-Ufa, which has interests in 19 television stations across Europe and in which the German media giant Bertelsmann owns a 50% stake. Most of its stations operate under the banner of RTL. The second consortium is led by the Scandinavian Broadcasting System (SBS), of which the U.S.-based Walt Disney owns 22.8%. The tender is seen as a setback for Central European Media Enterprises (CME), which had hoped to add a Hungarian license to its CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan portfolio. That porfolio includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Ukraine, and Poland.


In a declaration broadcast on state television, Sali Berisha thanked voters on 30 June for casting their ballots and the international community for its assistance in the elections. He acknowledged the defeat of the Democratic Party and called on his supporters to respect the election results. Berisha urged his backers to help "consolidate democracy in keeping with the principles enshrined in the law [and] with dignity and courage [while serving as the] opposition." He did not specify if or when he would resign as president. Berisha still has four years of his present term to serve but said earlier that he would resign if his party were defeated.


According to unofficial returns, the coalition of the Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Party won 63 directly elected seats, while the Democrats took only seven, "Indipendent" reported on 1 July. In Lezha, independent candidate and "Koha Jone" owner Nikolle Lesi won his contest. In the southern city of Korca, Pavli Kristaq Mykerezi of the Albanian United Right coalition defeated presidential spokesman Genci Pollo. Elections will have to be repeated in at least two districts, Malesia e Madhe in the north and Skrapar in the south. Runoffs will be necessary in at least 18 districts and results are still not in from another 18. Preliminary official results are expected in the evening of 1 July. Socialist leader Fatos Nano said in Tirana on 29 June that Premier Bashkim Fino will hold "a high-ranking position" in the next government.


Uncertainty remained on 1 July over the vote on the monarchy in the 29 June referendum. While the monarchists claim victory, sources close to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told an RFE/RL correspondent in Tirana they have no indication that their claim is valid. "Albania," for its part, published a list of the cities in which the monarchy allegedly took between 54% and 82% of the votes. These include Tirana, Durres, Kavaja, Kruja, and Elbasan in central Albania; Gjirokaster and Korca in the south; and Shkoder in the north. But in the southern rebel stronghold of Vlora, only 30% of the voters reportedly opted for a king. Meanwhile in Tirana, monarchists celebrated, but the Socialists canceled a victory rally due to an increasingly tense security situation. Many Albanians celebrated by firing gun shots into the air throughout the afternoon and evening (see also "End Note" below).


Biljana Plavsic said in Bijeljina on 30 June that Radovan Karadzic is still running the Republika Srpska from behind the scenes and that he attempted to stage a "coup" against her the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1997). Plavsic added she is preparing a text that will show who actually controls the Republika Srpska, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade. Bosnian Serb police continued to detain her early on 30 June, but international peacekeepers took her later that day to a helicopter that transported her back to her headquarters in Banja Luka. Observers in the former Yugoslavia and abroad noted that the nationalist former professor is trying to establish the rule of law against the mafia-like structures linked to Karadzic, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency.


Krajisnik said that Plavsic is pursuing a personal vendetta and "harming state interests," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Pale on 30 June. A spokesman for Karadzic stated that Plavsic is "breaking the unity" of the Bosnian Serb leadership, BETA wrote. The Bosnian Serb army meanwhile appealed to international peacekeepers to reduce their presence on the road connecting the rival power centers of Pale and Banja Luka and around the Bosnian Serb military command center at Han Pijesak. An army spokesman said that the current crisis is political in nature and can be "solved [only] by government institutions." The Bosnian Serb army is widely believed to be sympathetic to Plavsic, while her rivals reportedly can count on the Interior Ministry and the police. In Sarajevo, Muslim political leaders charged that the police actions against Plavsic show that Milosevic is interfering in Bosnia's internal affairs, "Oslobodjenje" reported.


Chief prosecutor Louise Arbour said in The Hague on 30 June that the recent arrest and deportation of Slavko Dokmanovic from eastern Slavonia was legal, even though the court had not previously announced his indictment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1997). She also indicated that the court may order the arrest of more war criminals without informing them of their indictment. Belgrade dailies reported that the developments surrounding Dokmanovic have left many Serbian leaders shaken. Meanwhile in Washington, U.S. military officials expelled Bosnian Gen. Selmo Cikotic from an elite training course after Croatia claimed he had committed atrocities against Croats in 1993, the "International Herald Tribune" reported.


In Zagreb, Vlado Gotovac, the leader of the Croatian Social and Liberal Party (HSLS) and defeated presidential candidate, said on 30 June that he intends to remain head of the HSLS. He added that the party's governing body will discuss the long-standing feud between him and his rival Drazen Budisa, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. In Belgrade, opposition deputies ended their boycott of the parliament. They promptly introduced 1,300 amendments to the draft law on local government in a bid to block the legislation, which the opposition says will strengthen the hand of the governing Socialists. And in Podgorica, President Momir Bulatovic now has four announced rivals for the presidency from within his own Democratic Socialist Party, including its three vice presidents.


Victor Ciorbea is demanding the sacking of a press officer from the Foreign Affairs Ministry who recently criticized him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 1997), RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported. He said it is inappropriate for a person who attacks the chief of a state administration to be employed by that administration. Ciorbea initially demanded an explanation of spokeswoman Gilda Lazar's comments, but Foreign Affairs Minister Adrian Severin has commented only that an investigation is being launched. A statement issued on 30 June by the ministry said Lazar will not be allowed to talk with journalists until the investigation is completed. Lazar told RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau that she has not been suspended. The Romanian daily "Ziva" recently quoted her as suggesting that Ciorbea had been begging for NATO membership and financial assistance during his recent visit to Washington.


Gazprom on 30 June warned Chisinau that it will cut gas supplies to Moldova unless debts totaling some $500 million are repaid within a few days, Interfax reported. The same day, dpa quoted an IMF official as saying that the Moldovan government should hand over responsibility for the payments to the energy firms Moldenergo and Moldovagas. Those two companies buy gas from Russia and sell it to customers in Moldova. The IMF has accused Moldova of using credits from the fund to pay off Russian debts. The IMF loans were earmarked for projects that help establish a competitive, free market economy.


The Council of Europe on 30 June opened an information center in Chisinau, RFE/RL reported. Daniel Tarschyz, the secretary-general of the council, attended the opening ceremony. Moldovan President Petru Luchinschi said the center will promote the establishment of democracy in Moldova. He noted that since Moldova joined the Council of Europe two years ago, it has ratified 20 council documents. However, Chisinau has yet to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights.


by Fasolt Kovacevic

Initial returns from the 29 June parliamentary elections point to a landslide victory for the Socialists. At the same time, Albanians may 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 when get-rich-quick pyramid schemes collapsed at the beginning of the year.

But the results seem paradoxical and only add to the confusion. On the one hand, Albanians voted to move to the Left and oust an administration that had been increasingly accused of corruption and authoritarian methods. On the other hand, according to monarchist Justice Minister Spartak Ngjela, between 50% and 60% of that same electorate may have voted to change the constitutional system and return to a monarchy.

The paradox is all the greater when it is remembered that the present claimant to the throne, Leka Zogu, is the son of Zog I, who promoted himself from president to king in 1928. The dynasty can hardly be considered to represent a tradition that was either long or democratic. Moreover, Zog was ousted by his Italian patrons in 1939. Many Albanians identify Zog's rule with its small 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 is appealing to many Albanians, who see him as a "padrone" in the traditional, southern European fashion.

A referendum result in favor of the monarchy may, in fact, be simply a protest vote against current President Sali Berisha. This would explain the apparent anomaly of the simultaneous victories of the Socialist Party and the monarchists. At the same time, the results claimed by the Socialists and monarchists suggest that the voters are looking for new options amid social and political insecurity but without really knowing what they want. It cannot be ruled out that the same voters will be cheering Berisha in the streets six months from now if the current victors disappoint them.

Nor is it clear what practical impact the referendum itself will have. Berisha decreed holding such a vote, but it is non-binding on the parliament. The constitution does not provide for referenda, and hence there are no rules defining how to apply their results. What is more, the referendum did not ask precisely what kind of monarchy the voters want. Ngjela assumes that the constitutional provisions of 1928 would apply if the monarchy were to be restored. But the referendum did not stipulate what kind of constitution would be in force.

It will be up to the new parliament to decide whether the referendum can be considered valid. Even if Prime Minister Bashkim Fino is correct in his estimate that 53% of the participating voters decided in favor of a monarchy, that number may be far less than half of the total electorate. The parliament could choose to disregard the results of the referendum on the grounds that only a majority of all eligible voters can decide on such an important constitutional question, as is the case under Danish law.

The legislators could also argue that numerous technical irregularities during the elections and the lack of security during the campaign preclude recognizing the referendum as valid. But such a scenario is unlikely since the newly elected legislators would also be casting doubt on the legitimacy of their own mandates. They are more likely to object to the referendum on the grounds that conditions in the country were chaotic at the time it took place.

But before such questions are addressed, the legislators will have to hold negotiations about possible coalitions. The Socialists offered to form a new broad-based "reconciliation government" prior to the vote. It remains to be seen whether they are ready to share their newly won power.

The author is a freelance writer on Albanian affairs.