Political stability the goal of Sunday's Albanian election
June 28, 1997
Web posted at: 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT)
In this report:
TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- As an uneasy peace holds, Albanians
are preparing to vote Sunday in parliamentary elections that
are supposed to direct the country toward stability.
With the campaigns winding down, the tone of the candidates
is anything but civil. A rebel leader running for office
vowed to help bring criminals to justice and -- in
practically the same breath -- to kill President Sali
Political rivals have alternated violent attacks with
bombastic speeches, trying to win public confidence to pull
the country out of months of chaos.
A 7,000-strong multinational protection force, sent into
Albania in April to try to restore some calm, will escort and
protect observers at polling stations.
Most of Albania's 4,525 polling stations were due to open at
7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and close at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT), three hours
earlier than previously planned because safety fears for
voters and observers.
Results should begin trickling into Central Electoral
Commission headquarters in Tirana late Sunday, but overall
official results were not expected until Tuesday.
A total of 1,112 candidates were running for the 155-member
parliament in which 115 seats are allocated in first-past-
the-post races and the rest on a proportional basis. A runoff
poll will be held July 6 for the two top candidates in areas
where no one winds 50 percent.
Berisha to leave presidency if opponents win
The elections were planned as the first step in restoring
order in Albania, where violent protests over failed
investment schemes degenerated into armed revolt early in the
year. Thousands of guns were looted from government armories,
and more than 1,500 people were killed in the mayhem.
"In March we had anarchy," former Austrian Chancellor Franz
Vranitzky told about 500 international observers. "Throughout
the country the only rule was that of the gun."
The election pits Berisha's right-leaning Democrats with the
Socialist-led opposition and armed gangs. Berisha's job is
not being contested Sunday, but he has agreed to step down if
the opposition wins.
Criminal bands still roam the countryside
Vranitzky, the top international elections monitor, said the
voting will help Albania "return to order and democratic
Criminal bands still wander much of the countryside and there
is little, if any, rule of law in most of the armed southern
enclaves, including the port city of Vlora, where the
rebellion against Berisha began.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE), which is helping Albanian authorities with the
election, said all 500 international observers had reached
their polling stations in Albania safely -- with no threats
from gunmen who roam the countryside.
According to the Central Election Committee, only 1.3 million
people were registered to vote three weeks ago, nearly 1
million less than last year.
Many Albanians are optimistic
Observers say many polling stations still lack the necessary
voting materials. Violence has prevented last-minute
distribution of ballot slips to places such as Vlora.
"There is still a lot of frenetic activity," OSCE election
coordinator Tony Welch told a news conference. "It may mean
a delay in the opening of the polling stations. It may mean
in some cases that they may not open at all."
While outside forces are providing security, they do not have
the mandate or the resources to provide logistical support.
But among many Albanians there is still the hope that the
elections will succeed, and political stability will return.
Among the optimists is lawyer Behjet Agolli, a member of a
regional voting commission in Tirana.
"We are dealing with very bad conditions," Agolli says. "But
the steel will of the people to vote will ensure that the
results are legitimate."
The election comes just 13 months after Albania's last
general election, the third multi-party poll since the
collapse of communism in 1990.
After considerable pressure, Berisha agreed in March to
schedule the election after a government of his ruling
Democrats yielded to a 10-party unity coalition set up to try
to quell the violence and looting.
'We will kill all the criminals'
In Vlora, rebel leader Partizan Caushi is running for office
as a Social Democrat, allied with the Socialists. Known
simply as "Zani," he is among those blamed for fomenting much
of the violence that has wracked the city.
But Caushi insists he would help bring crime under control.
"The priority is to hold elections in this country, to have a
new government. We will collaborate with the police to
restore order, and we will kill all the criminals," he said.
He said the country would not accept victory by the
Democratic Party, then added that if he wins, he will kill
Berisha on the first day of parliament.
Correspondent Mike Hanna, Reuters and The Associated Press
contributed to this report
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