Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko formally resigned following his defeat as head of the ruling Socialist Party two weeks ago. At the forefront of the challenge was Albania's former PM Fatos Nano, who unseated Majko as the Socialist Party chief and who now has the power to nominate a new premier. But the displacement of the 31-year old Majko, formerly Europe's youngest Prime Minister, and the reemergence of Nano, a veteran politician with links to Albania's communist past, could have a destabilizing influence on the already destitute and fragile country of Albania.
Majko became Albania's head of government in October of last year following Nano's resignation. His nomination and subsequent approval by President Rexhep Meidani was reportedly based on his popularity in leading student protests in 1990 that helped to topple the Soviet-backed government and because he did not have links with Albania's despised communist past, according to a 29 September 1998 BBC report.
Nano's history goes back much further. He has served three terms as Prime Minister, both under Communist rule and after. After the 1992 election of Dr. Sali Berisha as Albania's first democratic president, Nano, along with several other prominent communist officials, were arrested and sent to jail on charges of corruption. Nano served four years but then emerged in 1997 to defeat Berisha and become Albania's premier under the newly elected Meidani.
The rivalry between Berisha and Nano seems to have characterized much of the decade's politics in Albania. While Nano was reportedly elected in 1997 with a two-thirds majority, subsequent riots lead by Berisha, ostensibly over Nano's inability to maintain law and order, his perceived weakness on the Kosovo issue and the assassination of a Berisha ally allegedly by conspiracy of Nano's Socialist Party, lead to Nano's resignation in September 1998.
The rivalry between Berisha and Nano is indicative of larger social tensions in Albania. Berisha's rule has been itself characterized as authoritarian. And although he originally claimed U.S. support, allegations of corruption and complicity with numerous get-rich-quick frauds that bankrupted a large percentage of Albanians have led to a substantial decrease in Berisha's international and domestic popularity. But Berisha maintains a support base in the northern Albania and he gained favor in the eyes of many Albanians for his condemnation of the government for not lending more support to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), according to Columbia University's Shinasi Rama writing in a 1998 edition of the International Journal of Albanian Studies.
Beneath the Berisha-Nano split seems to be a deeply dissatisfied Albanian population. Neither the Nano government nor the Berisha opposition can claim much reliable popular support, since neither can be seen as having done much to stave off a plunge in the Albanian economy. According to the BBC, Albania is Europe's poorest country and the government is unable to provide for its citizens. The Albanian Daily News reported on October 26 that the most recent debt figures indicate Albania's foreign debt, $530 million, equals 18 percent of its GDP.
Albanians, many of whom have family ties to Albanians in Kosovo, likewise are perhaps dissatisfied with their government's handling of the Kosovo crisis. According to Rama, the government called on the KLA to lay down their arms and even arrested Kosovo activists who crossed over into Albania. Nano himself reportedly hinted he would be willing to discuss the Kosovo problem directly with Serbian authorities.
While the Kosovo crisis perhaps caused Albanians to unify around the common Serbian enemy, the conflict only served to further undermine the authority of the government. As a result of the government's performance during the crisis, Rama says that, "The current government does not enjoy any kind of legitimacy," especially "in key areas such as Northern Albania."
Nano's success at ousting Majko can only serve to further undermine the popular legitimacy of the Albanian government. While Nano's performance in the last year was sometimes faulted for his failure to adequately curb corruption and smuggling, the BBC reported on October 26, his hard-line in defense of the Kosovo Albanians was often applauded. In a September 1998 BBC report, Berisha was quoted as saying Majko's appointment would significantly ease tensions and increase stability due to the young politician's attitude on Kosovo. In the midst of the political instability that has plagued Albania throughout most of this decade, Majko's appointment was perhaps a rare opportunity to provide unity and reconciliation to a country which a June 1997 New York Times article described as being "in agony."
Although Nano has not yet nominated himself as the new Prime Minister, Radio Free Europe reports that he has not exactly ruled out the possibility. While Majko continues to serve as Prime Minister on request from President Meidani until a new government can be formed, the ultimate decision rests with Nano as head of the ruling Socialist Party. And the smear tactics Nano employed in ousting Majko, which Majko told the Albanian Daily News (October 25) had "exceeded all limits," is unlikely to make Nano any more popular among the Albanian people.
For now, Nano has charged the Deputy Prime Minister, Ilir Meta with the task of forming a new government. But an October 26 Radio Free Europe report says Majko's speedy departure is likely to reinforce with international observers the notion that Albania is an unstable country. Given the fragility of Albanian economics and domestic politics, Nano's reemergence as a political force in Albania can only prove such international suspicions to be correct.
Zakariya Wright is a regular contributor to iviews.com