As expected the first leader meeting last week fell apart, since it had too many parties and even more leader. The following days meeting proceeded in the old format: two Macedonian and two Albanian parties, from the government and opposition. As representatives of the Albanian opposition Zaev decided to invite Kasami, even though in government he accepts Gashi as leader of Besa. For leader meetings this is not so important. He could have invited Sela, Gashi or even Thachi, but ultimately it is not Zaev who decides who represents the opposition-minded Albanians. Come more important things, such as the referendum, the true weight will lie with that party that has real support in the electorate, and tomorrow the fate of the referendum might even come to depend on it. Zaev may naively now want to play around with some Albanian parties and thus endanger the referendum itself. For us it is more important to know how this issue may pass, and thus it it important to know who really speaks for the Albanian opposition.
If the question was asked in December of 2016, then there would be no dilemma. Besa then clearly became the second Albanian party, with around 20 thousand votes ahead of the third party, Alliance. The role of main oppositioner belonged to her. There was no dilema even this time a year ago. The Alliance then was in power and Besa in opposition, so it was clear who was the voice of the Albanian opposition.
But now it is not December 2016, or July 2017. Meanwhile some processes radically altered the picture in the Albanian bloc and I believe it is clear that the true voice of the Albanian opposition now is the Alliance. These processes were: local elections 2017, Alliance leaving the government, Besa’s schism and the entry of one of its wings in the government.
First, local elections changed the order of parties. DUI stagnated, DPA got halved again, Besa lost around 10 thousand votes. The only party that grew was the Alliance, which got more than 50 thousand votes and overtook Besa as the second Albanian party. Alliance also won and now governs three municipalities, while Besa gained only one. This was the first true indicator that the will of the Albanian electorate had changed and after giving a shot with Besa, that electorate had decided to now give a chance to Alliance to be the leader of opposition against DUI.
Second, the Alliance left the government right after local elections, after strong disagreements with SDSM and DUI. Taking this step meant that it had accepted the role chosen by the electorate, which could not be done while being in government. At that time however it was expected that it would share the role with Besa, with which it had a coalition in local elections.
Third, after losing its primate in opposition, Besa shot itself in the foot. When it should have stayed together as a strong opposition voice, together with Alliance, it split itself in two. While it is not yet clear where its electorate went, it is a fact that it won only 48 thousand votes when it was still whole. Thus none of its wings has a chance to be the second Albanian party, since they weren’t that even when together. With the split at the beginning of the year Besa finally lost its chance to be a strong opposition and the voice of opposition oriented Albanians, together with Alliance.
Finally Besa lost any pretensions to be the voice of opposition when it started negotiations to enter the government, taking the place of Alliance. No matter what its leaders said, it thus stabbed the coalition with Alliance in the back, trying to become its reserve. And this goes for both wings of Besa, since both tried to enter the government, although the heavier burden falls on Gashi’s wing which ultimately joined the government. This was the wrong step at the wrong time.
Taking all these events into account, it is clear that the true voice of Albanian opposition now is the Alliance. Gashi’s Besa and DPA lost this right when they joined the government. Kasami’s Besa can pretend to this claim citing the last parliamentary elections, but ultimately this is an extremely legalistic interpretation that has nothing to do with reality. After local elections, Besa’s schism and its coquetry with government, this Besa can pretend so only if it rejoins the coalition with the Alliance and coordinates its steps together. This possibility is maybe still open in the future, and in that case it may justify some of Besa’s steps now. But while they remain separate, the leader of the Albanian opposition spirit no doubt is the Alliance.