Deep in the Balkans, two of the West’s leading political operatives — John Podesta, architect of Bill Clinton’s two successful campaigns for the White House, and former British prime minister Tony Blair — are going head to head in one of the strangest and most deeply fraught election campaigns in years. At stake here for both sets of lobbyists is not only the promise of millions in consulting fees and ongoing, profitable lobbying contracts, but bragging rights as well — to having stage-managed a winning campaign involving 66 political parties bundled in at least three coalitions, and deep hatreds in all camps. So both sides — center-left Prime Minister Sali Berisha going for his third four-year term, challenged by the socialist Edi Rama — have managed to transform this electoral contest into a curious mélange of non-stop campaign rallies, caravans with blaring loudspeakers, a series of televised debates with both sides shouting at each other, and wall-to-wall television coverage that would not be out of place in Chicago or Houston. On Sunday, voters will decide.
“Mr. Podesta is a very very good man,” Berisha said in a recent interview in the prime minister’s office in Tirana. “I am very happy with him. He is a very serious partner. I work with (his group) with a great deal of confidence. We are thinking to work harder in public-private partnership in our country and we must invite expertise.”
Edi Rama, after striking his deal with Tony Blair’s organization, echoed, “We agreed that after June 23, he and his team will work with us for good governance.” Meanwhile, Blair’s deputy, Alastair Campbell, has set up an advisory group in Tirana as the campaign heated up.
Largely unnoticed amid the apparently revolutionary developments in Iran, this other national election in a tiny country deep within the Balkans at the far southeastern corner of Europe is deeply important to its people and its place in the world. The hope is that by staging its first clean election in a century, Albania might move one step closer to a coveted and lucrative membership in the European Union.
The fear is that it may hardly be moving in that direction at all. And all the outside forces are doing little to improve these prospects.
Full Article: Albanian election, American style: Column.