Janusz Bugajski, Dita Albania
Despite the predictions, violent clashes were avoided in Albania on Election Day, as government opponents held only small largely peaceful rallies. Nonetheless, the crisis has simply entered a new phase. And no one can be certain that the conflict between Albania’s two major political formations can be resolved any time soon.
Albania faces at least three post-election possibilities:escalating violence, political parallelism, or a grand compromise.In the first scenario, Democrat leaders will not accept the local election results and will organize new protests and other mass actions. The Socialist government is highly unlikely to stand down, reverse any decisions, or hold early general elections. The impasse will further raise tensions and could spill over into society.
A scenario of escalating chaos and violence could be triggered either by a provocation on either side or a demonstration spinning out of control and police firing on protestors. A random act of violence or even a pre-planned political assassination could precipitate violence on a scale not seen in the country for over twenty years.
In the second scenario, which does not exclude some level of violent confrontation, the opposition adoptsan institutional approach bytrying to construct a parallel authority.With no compromises in sight and the government adamant that no deals will be made with the opposition, the Democrat leadership may be tempted to form a parallel state.
Such a model of rebellion has been tried before, most recently in Moldova and Venezuela. Opposition leaders would claim that the incumbent government has violated the constitution and impinged on democratic values and human rights. It could also assert that both the last national elections and the recent municipal elections were fraudulent because of vote rigging and other abuses.
Such charges would provide a justification for declaring that the government is illegitimate and the opposition will take steps to form an interim administration and prepare for early parliamentary elections. This could entail nominating a parallel prime minister and cabinet or some other emergency council not answerable to the government in Tirana.
Another alternative would be to declare a parallel or separate authorities in regions of the country where the Democrats are strongest. This would be a potentially dangerous step that could result in police intervention. An attempt to involve the military could prove even more destructive.
Nonetheless, it is feasible that a “second Albania” could be created if local law enforcement bodies declare their loyalty to the parallel administration and the opposition takes control of some local government offices and its finances and erects barriers to prevent the government in Tirana from retaking local institutions.
Parallelism would in effect become a form of separatism that could make large parts of the country ungovernable. A disunited and self-torn Albania would be internationally condemned as a fractured state in which investment, tourism, and all forms of engagement would dramatically decline. As the positions of both sides harden Albania would resemble Somalia or Yemen although without the radical religious element. Such an act of self-destruction could prove unprecedented in recent European history.
A third scenario, which may prove the most difficult but the only one that would save the country from a slow or fast disaster would entail a grand compromise between government and opposition. In any such compromise both sides would have to make sacrifices in order to achieve longer-term advantages.
The Socialists cannot dismiss the Democrats as a lunatic fringe, as their voters and supporters form a large part of Albanian society, and in some elections they are the majority. They will need to offer a clear set of concessions, whether by establishing a cross-party consultative body, bringing members of the opposition into the administration, enabling the functioning of the constitutional court, or some other gesture to lower temperatures and restore legitimacy for both sides in the dispute.
For the Democratsa grand bargain would entail halting public protest, toning down inflammatory language, and avoiding maximalist demands so that both parties can start a dialogue. Party leaders need to look beyond their voters and toward the broader Albanian public that deserves more from its leaders than endless arguments about the spoils of office. Without a lasting compromise, Albania would become a frozen state with a divided population and the prospect of hot conflict hovering on the horizon. This would severely diminish any chances for economic development and international integration.