Albanian government, opposition ready for talks to resolve political crisis

Albanian government, opposition ready for talks to resolve political crisis
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje March 3, 2017

Albania’s governing Socialist Party and its main rival, the opposition Democratic Party, have agreed to hold talks to overcome the stalled process of judicial reforms.

Members of the Democratic Party have been protesting since February 18 in a tent in front of Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office, calling for free and fair elections on June 18 and for a caretaker government to be installed organise the election. This has put on hold the implementation of EU-required judicial reforms, with laws and amendments waiting to be voted on in parliament. Albania’s acceptance as an EU candidate country depends on progress in the reforms. 

In a joint statement on March 3, Rama and parliament speaker Ilir Meta expressed their readiness to launch talks with the Democrats with the aim of getting the reform process going again, news agency ATA said.

The leaders of the ruling coalition comprised of Rama’s Socialist Party and its junior partner, Meta’s Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), said that, in addition to the opposition boycott of the parliament, they also discussed the judicial and electoral reform processes and the holding of free and democratic elections, ATA reported.

The coalition leaders said they are ready to engage in talks with members of the opposition in parliament or anywhere else the opposition wants to hold talks.

The DP responded immediately in a statement accepting the dialogue with the governing coalition. DP leader Luzhim Basha had previously said he was ready to hold talks with Rama in his protest marquee. 

However, the Democrats also said they want a government with broad political support that will implement the decriminalisation law, fight against drug trafficking, offer free and fair voting and begin the judicial reforms. The ruling coalition is unlikely to agree to a power-sharing deal since they hold a stable majority in parliament. 

Failure to strike a deal quickly could be a major setback for the judicial reform process. At a session scheduled for March 6, the parliament is due to select members of vetting bodies that will assess 800 judges and prosecutors. MPs will vote to select members of the bodies as stipulated under the new vetting law, which is part of the judicial reforms taking place in the country.

However, it is still uncertain whether the DP will boycott the session, which would undermine the legitimacy of the appointments.

The protest continued despite an appeal by EU officials to end the boycott and work with the government to implement the crucial judicial reforms. 

The upcoming election, together with the judicial reforms currently in progress, could pave the way for Albania to launch its long-awaited EU accession negotiations. The country has been a candidate to join the EU since June 2014. 

The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who visited Albania on March 3, urged the Democrats to stop their boycott of the parliament, stressing that the implementation of judicial reforms is a key step towards EU integration.

"We are ready as we were last year to open negotiations in the moment when the implementation of the justice reform and in particular “vetting” starts," Mogherini said at a news conference after meeting Rama.

Mogherini also met with Basha. “I was also clear that boycott of the parliament means blocking the establishment of the vetting commission and de facto stops Albanian progress toward the European Union,” Mogherini said in a statement.