TIRANA, May 15 (ATA) – Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee during his visit in Tirana had a round-table discussion with a group of young reporters. Yee pointed out that the US supports the offer submitted by MEPs McAllister and Fleckenstein in Tirana and hopes that parties will accept that as a means to reach agreement to be able to participate in the elections, ATA reports.
Following is the transcript of the round-table discussion of Hoyt Yee with Young Reporters.
Question: So, until now, Mr. Yee, you have met Mr. Rama, Mr. Meta, and then you are going to meet Mr. Basha. Do you have a political plan for this crisis? If it fails and the opposition continues its boycott of the elections, are you going to recognize the elections. And what if everything goes into violence and clashes?
Yee: Well, first of all, let me explain my goal here today. It is, after almost two years of being outside, to meet with members of the government and civil society, including you, to better understand the situation. That’s my first goal. Secondly, it is to reaffirm the U.S. policy in the region and also in Albania specifically, which, to be very simple, has not changed essentially, has not changed. U.S. policy in the Balkans is still committed to helping countries of the region integrate with the rest of Europe, with Euro-Atlantic institutions, to become more democratic, more stable and more prosperous. So now, addressing some of your questions more specifically, it is very important we believe in any democracy for elections to take place. It is a basic principle of democracy that the people should elect their leaders. We have been very, as I think people in Albania, very pleased to see that in the three last elections, the elections have resulted in a very peaceful transfer of power and the party or parties that have not been successful in the elections have accepted the results and this is a sign of a mature and healthy democracy, and this is what we hope will result from this election and future elections, as it does in other European democracies. I, of course, will try to understand the different views on the current electoral issue/ dispute and I will also convey what Ambassador Lu and his team have been conveying, that in our view, elections are always better when there is the widest possible participation of political parties and that is because the people of a country should be represented in government. In order to be represented, there must be a wide range, not only one party, but other parties participating. Thirdly, on elections, we believe that if some parties exclude themselves or are excluded from the elections, this is damaging not only to the country and its institutions, but its image outside, first and foremost I think to Europe. Since Albania is trying to join the European Union, it is very important that Albania continue to demonstrate that it is a stable, functional democracy, inclusive democracy. And, to foreign investors it is very important to see that there is a functional, stable, predictable democracy where investments are safe.
Question: So, are you going to recognize the result?
Yee: The main focus of my message is that that elections should be inclusive; they should include as many parties as possible. If parties decide not to participate in the elections, that is their right not to participate. Although we could question whether it is a wise thing to do, we do not question their right to exclude themselves. And, if that happens and if the conditions are evaluated by the Electoral Commission, domestic observers, the OSCE, other international observers, including the United States and European countries that countries that will send observers to observe…If it is deemed to be a credible election, then we will accept the results, even if some parties decide not to participate. Again, we would consider that to be unfortunate, first and foremost for the parties themselves that do not participate, but also for the country. And, in terms of violence, you know from hearing Ambassador Lu say the same thing that we consider that violence has no part, no place in the democratic process. We support completely peaceful expression of views, peaceful demonstrations, even peaceful protests, but we reject absolutely the use of violence for political aims.
Question: Is there a concrete offer, or a technical offer, that political leaders should stick to to end the crisis?
Yee: Well, we believe that the decision has to come from the political leaders. The parties themselves will have to agree on the appropriate conditions for the elections, if there’s going to be an agreement, a compromise that will allow all parties to participate and we hope there will be that agreement so that all parties will be able to participate. There is already a proposal that has been submitted, offered by Members of the European Parliament, Mr. Fleckenstein and Mr. McAllister. You know that we support that. We think that it is a fair proposal and we hope that parties will accept that as a means to reach agreement to be able to participate in the elections.
Question: Both of the parties, the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, has decided as a red line the technical government. Which is the red line that the U.S. will put on them in order to find a solution?
Yee: There is no American red line in this process, just as there is no American plan. I think there are practical constraints that parties will need to deal with. First and foremost what is possible for the other party, or other parties, to accept. Any compromise, any agreement will require all sides to agree. And it is unlikely that the government for example will accept an indefinite delay or a long delay of the election. But I think that what is important is for there to be a serious conversation between all the parties. We know there has been dialogue for some time now, and I would emphasize that we believe time is running out; that the time for reaching an agreement, if there is going to be an agreement, is very limited. And, as Commissioner Hahn from the European Commission has said, if there can’t be an agreement, then the international community is going to be able to accept the elections on June 18th. Will we accept the elections if there is not an agreement. Will we consider elections to be valid even if opposition is not participating. And the answer to that is “yes”, again with the caveat that the conditions will need to be credible and that will be decided after elections take place by the the observers including OSCE and other international observers. But we certainly hope there will be an agreement.
Question: Do you have hope that there will be an agreement?
Yee: Yes. We are professional diplomats, we are always optimistic.
Question: How much?
Yee: We are always optimistic that parties will act in their own best interests. Just like countries act in their own self interest. And we truly believe that it is in the interests of all of the parties to participate, to engage, not to be outside – to take themselves outside. I have quoted, in other countries that are considering boycotts, our President, Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Courageous leaders are the ones in the arena, the ones who stay in the arena, not the ones who sit on the sidelines as spectators or critics.” And particularly this is true in democracies in transition, that need the participation of all of their leaders, of all their representatives, of all people with good ideas and good intentions. Albania cannot afford, in our view, to have an important party sitting on the sidelines, not contributing to the work of one of the most important institutions, which is the parliament, and in one of the important processes in a democracy, which is an election.
Question: If there’s no opposition in the elections, what is the U.S. guarantee of the USA that PM Rama will not capture or control the new institutions of justice?
Yee: Well, I would say that first, we have worked for some time with the government and PM Rama. We believe that he also wants to see Albania, move towards the European Union, to be an example for the rest of the region, to be a force for stability and progress for the rest of the region. And therefore, we don’t believe that it is in his interest, or in his plan, to govern without an opposition, in other words to be without any kind of constructive opposition. Which is in the interest of every democracy, to have some strong, what we call loyal opposition, in other words an opposition that operates within the constitution, within the law, that is pushing the government by proposing alternative ideas, by criticizing the government when it makes mistakes, to put pressure on the government to do better. It is the same in our country, the United States. If there weren’t an opposition we would be a weaker democracy and I believe the PM understands that. Let me just add, I think for the opposition, I mentioned it earlier and I want to make it clear, we respect the right of the parties to decide not to participate, we respect their right to boycott, but we question the wisdom of this. And I mentioned, I think, earlier, in my experience in the Balkans, I never once seen a boycott help the party that is boycotting or help the country in which the party is trying to achieve some political aim. Boycotts do not work; it is not a winning tactic, and cenot a strategy. So, we certainly hope that all the parties will engage, will find a way to agree to have elections that include all the parties.
Question: So you believe that Rama can guarantee the elections or the judicial reform?
Yee: In politics, there are no guarantees. And this could be, I think, the concern of the opposition, that if they are not present in the Parliament, if they are not present in the institutions, then of course the winning party or parties will have the ability to act without the constructive role of an opposition, which is to question, to observe, to propose alternatives. So the best guarantee, and again saying that there are no absolute guarantees, the best guarantee of a healthy democracy, in which there is accountability, in which there is the possibility of the government being challenged, the best guarantee is for the opposition to be in the Parliament, to be in the institutions, playing that role as a check and balance.
Question: Is there any risk for Russian influence here in the Western Balkans, especially in Albania, about the our inside political? And secondly, is there any possibility for an intervention in the Constitution for these elections?
Yee: Russia has for some time tried to keep the Western Balkans from joining NATO but also the European Union. It would prefer to see the Balkans stay closer to Russia or at least neutral, so that it can have maximum influence in this region. Our view is that it is very important for countries, sovereign countries, to have the right to decide for themselves their security arrangements, their alliances, the organizations which they join. This is it. We believe an absolutely essential part of sovereignty is for the countries to decide without any country, whether it is Russia or any other country, having a veto. No third country should have a veto on weather Albania joins the EU or Montenegro joins NATO, or Bosnia-Herzegovina joins either EU or NATO. Russia is trying, we saw what happened in Montenegro last October, Russia tried to interfere with the elections. Russia as you know has tried to interfere in a number of elections, including ours, to have an effect on how democratic processes take place. So it is important that we all are vigilant, we are watching very carefully what Russia is doing, and we take steps to protect ourselves. I’ll just say to conclude my point, rule of law is very important in this regard. Making sure that there are not avenues or points of vulnerability that Russians or other outside actors can use to influence, through corruption or through money, just having an influence in the decision making, in the institutions that no outside actor should have.
As for your second question, it is a decision for the government, and for the opposition, and the parties in the Parliament to decide. We believe that there is already a good proposal that has been offered by the Members of the European Parliament that provides a good basis for an agreement. We hope very much that the parties will use it as a basis for coming together in the interests of their country, in the interests of the region, in order to participate in the elections without unnecessary delay.
Question: Since you’ve been a really supporter of the justice reform Mr. Ambassador, will the U.S. administration encourage the creation of the justice system, such as the vetting commissions, from the majority and opposition of the new parliament, without the Democratic Party and its allies.
Yee: First let me say that we are very strongly committed to supporting the judicial reform. This was an important step forward for Albania in its fight against corruption, in strengthening the rule of law, in improving the efficiency and integrity of the judicial branch. So we are committed to supporting the process that your government and opposition parties began last July, by adopting the amendments and beginning to pass the legislation. How will it work of course is going to depend on the parties. We don’t want there to be delays, we don’t believe it should be blocked, but of course, there are practical necessities, the process will not be as effective if parties boycott, if there are some parties not participating. So that will be our goal, to see that the parties can reach agreement among themselves, so they participate not in the elections but in institutions and important processes, like the judicial reform.