US Deputy Assistant Secretary Hoyt Brian Yee has become the most recent addition to an increasingly large group of international mediators flying into Tirana in order to negotiate a deal between the Prime Minister Edi Rama and opposition leader Lulzim Basha.
This concerted effort of the internationals to “save” the elections started in earnest when on April 15 Rama and Speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta decide that the European People’s Party (EPP) needs to be contacted to negotiate between the government and the opposition. Basha’s PD is affiliated with the EPP, and perhaps the idea has been that someone who is ideologically close to Basha can persuade him to end the boycott.
Two days later the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, from the left-wing SPD, calls the opposition’s boycott “absurd.” He makes this comment before actually meeting with the opposition and being further informed about the local political context, but he has already set the tone.
When MEP David McAllister, the negotiator from the EPP, actually arrives in Albania on April 25, he brings his colleague MEP Knut Fleckenstein from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (PASD). While McAllister briefly talks with Basha, Fleckenstein talks with Meta and Rama. The parties never meet. Unofficial sources rumor that the “package” that had been on the table included postponement of the elections, several ministries granted to the opposition as well as the head of the Central Election Commission, and the consensual election of President and National Ombudsman. This has been, however, never made officially public and has since floated around in the political scene as the “McAllister proposal.”
On April 28, EU Ambassador Romana Vlahutin, US Ambassador Donald Lu, and OSCE Ambassador Bernd Borchardt sit down in a now notorious meeting with the “small” opposition parties, in which Borchardt allegedly claims that the absence of the opposition from the elections will “just be a sentence” in the OSCE-ODIHR election monitoring report, while they all encourage the parties to bank on the absence of the PD and win big by breaking the boycott. All of them refuse.
The only negotiation attempt at which the opposing parties actually met face to face is coordinated by President Bujar Nishani on May 3, after Rama and the KQZ have set a “final” deadline. Also these negotiations fail to produce any result. Meanwhile, a chorus of internationals calls upon Basha to join the elections and end his boycott of Parliament.
On May 5, Rama suddenly decides to unilaterally undermine the local elections in Kavaja, by pulling out his candidate and pressuring the independent candidate to do the same, under the pretext of “stability.” In an arguably illegal decision, the KQZ then pulls the plug on the local elections. This move is subsequently supported by the US Embassy.
On May 9, the OSCE-ODIHR election monitoring mission arrives in Tirana. Its head claims that the OSCE will not comment on the political situation, even though the OSCE Ambassador Borchardt at several occasions has claimed that €2 million of drugs money is threatening the elections and that anti-corruption institutions are under political pressure, and has already involved himself in the local political situation in the “small opposition” meeting.
Then on May 11, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn suddenly writes an open letter to the “Albanian people” in which he basically states that he accepts the elections without the opposition. It is unclear what right Hahn has to address citizens of non-EU countries and openly intervene into an electoral campaign.
Finally, on May 15, Yee comes to Tirana for a “final” attempt, refers vaguely to the McAllister proposal, and on the side tries again to destabilize the opposition by talking individually with a few “dissident” deputies. In any case, he already says that should he fail, the US will recognize the elections.
As it looks right now, the negotiations about an adjusted McAllister compromise (minus President but with electronic voting) have failed.