27 June 2001, Volume 5, Number 46
The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 10 July 2001.
ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS LEAD IN ELECTION RETURNS. Preliminary parliamentary election returns suggest that the Socialists will stay in power. The opposition, however, is likely to make gains.
According to the preliminary results of the 24 June general elections, the Socialist Party (PS) has managed to win 46 percent of the votes nationwide, clearly ahead of the opposition Union for Victory coalition, which received only 34 percent, "Albanian Daily News" reported.
The outcome gives a boost to the Socialists, who have been running the government since 1997 when they won the general elections after the country had plunged into anarchy. Since then, the government has conducted numerous and significant reforms to improve public administration, speed up privatization, legalize private media, and introduce a better system of checks and balances in the country's institutions. The opposition, however, could emerge in better shape after the 2001 elections than it did in 1997.
The New Democrat Party (PD e Re) founded by legislators close to the reform-oriented Genc Pollo won nearly 8 percent of the votes. The party split off from the Democratic Party (PD) of former President Sali Berisha at the end of last year. The PD is the leading force in the Union for Victory, which also includes the Republican Party (PR), the monarchist Legality Movement (LL), the National Front (BK), and the Liberal Party (PL).
Four other smaller parties barely managed to win more than 2.5 percent of the vote each, which is the minimum needed to enter parliament. They include the Social Democrats (PSD), the Democratic Alliance (AD), and the ethnic Greek Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ). All three have been in a coalition with the Socialists since 1997. Voter turnout was around 60 percent.
PS candidates appear to have won 35 direct seats in parliament, while the opposition won in only 17 constituencies. Another 47 direct seats will be decided in a second round of voting on 8 July. Due to administrative irregularities, voting did not take place in Lushnja, a traditional stronghold of the PD. Elections will be held there as well in July. An additional 40 parliamentary seats will be divided by proportional vote.
Central Election Commission (KQZ) Chairman Ilirian Celibashi said late on 25 June that more than 20 polling stations had been reluctant to hand over their records of the voting and of the count, as they are supposed to do. Celibashi blamed unnamed political parties for the delays. Most heads of polling-station commissions are opposition officials. Celibashi warned that commissioners will be fined up to $600 if they refuse to cooperate with the KQZ. The final returns are due to be announced on 27 June.
According to Celibashi, there were some technical problems during the voting, but he added that they were not sufficient to call the validity of the elections into question. He concluded: "The election was free and fair." OSCE officials shared that view.
Just before the elections, on 23 June, the KQZ barred all but five out of 114 independent candidates from running, arguing that they had received support from one or another of the main political parties. The PD and especially the PS had tried to increase their chances of winning a parliamentary majority by nominating formally independent candidates (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 June 2001)
After having claimed irregularities in the voting on 25 June, PD officials issued a statement the following day, saying that the vote took place in "an acceptable way." Berisha had claimed initially that police forced some polling stations to close at 6 p.m. and thus deprived some voters of their right to cast their ballots. Opposition officials filed 150 complaints with the KQZ and the OSCE, including charges of violence used against opposition election commission members.
According to officials from the Public Order Ministry, one man shot and injured two others, including an election official, in Tirana on voting day. Neither was seriously hurt. In the village of Lekbibaj, in the lawless north of the country, armed men burst into a polling station and set fire to voting papers. No other significant incidents were reported, however. This was Albania's most peaceful and orderly election since the fall of communism a decade ago.
Meanwhile, PD officials invited representatives of the PD e Re and the other smaller parties to join coalition talks. It seems more likely, however, that Prime Minister Ilir Meta will eventually be able to form a coalition government, should he manage to win a significant number of direct seats in the run-off. Meta said he is "sure that the PS will have more than 50 percent of the seats in parliament, including those from the second round." Meta pledged to continue his reform policy: "I am very satisfied with the [electoral] process that helped the country take another remarkable step towards European standards." (Fabian Schmidt)
'CONVOY OF SHAME' -- MACEDONIAN REACTIONS TO THE EVACUATION OF ARACINOVO. "Convoy of Shame" was the headline of a polemical front-page article in the Skopje daily "Makedonija denes" on 26 June about the evacuation of the ethnic Albanian fighters from Aracinovo to the north of the country with the help of NATO troops.
What frustrated the author -- and angered the crowd outside (and inside) the Macedonian parliament during the night of 25 to 26 June -- was the interruption of the offensive by Macedonian security forces to take Aracinovo. This is the village outside Skopje that had been held by the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (UCK) since 9 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 June 2001). The truce brokered by the EU's Javier Solana (and reportedly by U.S. and NATO diplomats as well) came at a moment when the Macedonian army seemed about to retake the village.
The reconquest of Aracinovo was widely seen as a key factor in the power game in Skopje. Most domestic observers had the impression that the position of the ethnic Macedonian parties within the government of "political unity" had increasingly come under pressure, especially after the fighters of the UCK had taken Aracinovo and threatened to attack the Macedonian capital as well as the airport.
Not surprisingly, it became clear that the Albanian parties were willing to profit as much as possible from their counterparts' weakness. The demand by Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), for the creation of the position of vice president with a veto-right over important decisions was perceived in the context of the Macedonian parties' weakness.
The Macedonian hard-liners way out of this dilemma was to attack the UCK's positions in Aracinovo. Had the attack succeeded and the guerrillas been defeated -- and there were signs that they were about to give up -- it would have put the ethnic Macedonian politicians in a much better position.
This kind of military solution, however, was not acceptable to the international community. Solana rushed to Skopje again; a Sukhoi fighter plane buzzed the airport just as he left his plane (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2001). But shortly afterward, the fighting in Aracinovo stopped.
It was clear that the Macedonian military and much of the public felt that they had been unfairly denied a military victory. Most of the demonstrators regarded both NATO and the EU as supporters of the Albanian guerrillas. How else could one explain the fact that the armed Albanians who had held Aracinovo for two weeks and who had threatened to bring terror to the Macedonian capital would surrender not to the Macedonian army but only to NATO? How else could the fact be explained that NATO troops not only did not disarm the UCK but helped them out of the village -- together with their arms -- and protected them from the angry villagers who had been forced to leave their homes?
And what about the Macedonian politicians who had agreed to such a humiliation? "If they were really put under such immense pressure [by the EU in Luxembourg, where Chris Patten threatened to end European financial aid to Macedonia if the fighting continued (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2001)], then the Macedonian leadership should have looked for ways to explain this to its people -- maybe in a more subtle way," Olivera Vojnovska wrote in "Utrinski vesnik" on 26 June. "Be it as it may, this secrecy was not necessary, and it contributed to the disappointment of the people. This, together with the coverage of [the events by] some foreign news agencies, resulted in a feeling of defeatism," Vojnovska concludes.
Now that the Macedonian as well as the Albanian political leaders have lost the confidence of their voters (see also "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 June 2001), it is not clear who will find a way out of the crisis or how.
There are, moreover, ominous signs of worse things to come. Leaflets calling for pogroms against Albanian shopkeepers appeared in Skopje, signed by a yet unknown "Paramilitary Macedonia 2001" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2001). Elsewhere, the UCK has threatened to launch attacks on Skopje and some other cities.
In an effort to calm things down, President Boris Trajkovski made a nationwide televised speech in the evening of 26 June (the full text in English can be found at http://www.ok.mk).
He explained to the public that the evacuation of the insurgents from Aracinovo was a joint operation by both the Macedonian security forces and NATO in order to expel the rebels from the village and end the threat they posed to the capital. Then he added: "Now I see some people criticize this. Well, I reject that criticism, and ask what it is my accusers say I am guilty of? Was it wrong to remove the terrorists from Aracinovo? If so, then I plead guilty.
Was it wrong to end the operation quickly and completely? If so, then I plead guilty. Was it wrong to stop the needless deaths of [members of] our security forces? If so, then I plead guilty.
"I appear to be being blamed for achieving success. This policy is also a success for the whole government, because the whole government approved this policy. In matters of such huge importance, I would never act alone. At every stage I ensured that all the key ministers were fully involved, not just in the strategy, but in the active implementation of the terrorist withdrawal from Aracinovo," Trajkovski said.
Time will tell whether this address will ensure Trajkovski's political survival and succeed in calming angry Macedonians. And time is what Trajkovski asked for. For now, the fighting continues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2001). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, firstname.lastname@example.org)
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK "This government must have a long-term vision." -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, in his speech of 26 June. Quoted by Deutsche Welle.
"The Balkan curse of ethnic cleansing finally came to Macedonia yesterday." -- London's "The Times" on 26 June, commenting on a leaflet distributed in ethnic Albanian areas of Skopje by Macedonian paramilitaries.
"This is not a crowd but rather a group of citizens, and the situation is still under control. The people are entering the assembly building, they are not storming the assembly. They are taking out all kinds of souvenirs, but this can in no way be described as a rampage." -- Radio Macedonia broadcast on 26 June, "correcting" an earlier program that described the mob scene in front of and inside the parliament building.
"I don't think that Milosevic should be extradited in exchange for American money." -- Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev. Quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 26 June.
"Despite the mess and confusion, politics starts today. We [in Albania] have a normal result for a transition democracy [following the 24 June vote]. This marks a new phase where frightening majorities are a thing of the past and there is a balance of political forces." -- Albanian political analyst Remzi Lani, to Reuters on 26 June.