Albanian opposition agrees to participate in election

Albanian opposition agrees to participate in election
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje May 18, 2017

Albania’s biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party (DP), has decided to participate in the upcoming general election, after threatening a boycott that would have seriously undermined the legitimacy of the vote.

The breakthrough follows intensive US official mediation efforts, and will put Albania’s EU accession efforts – which would have been undermined by an election that failed to include the opposition – back on track. 

The information came in the early hours of May 18 when Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Socialist Party and DP leader Lulzim Basha reached an agreement on the election.

Few details of the agreement have so far emerged, but there is speculation the two leaders will agree to postpone the election, which was scheduled for June 18, until later in the year. This option had been favoured by the DP.

During his visit to Tirana, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Brian Yee had made tremendous efforts to persuade the DP leader to participate in the election. Yee’s proposals included the so-called “McAllister Plus” package, an integrated compromise proposal tabled by MEPs last month. 

“An agreement was reached. All details will be made public during the next 24 hours,” Basha was quoted by Albanian Daily News. The same news was confirmed by Rama.

After the consensus was reached, opposition supporters dismantled the marquee pitched in front of the prime minister’s office, which had been there since February 18 when anti-government protests were launched. 

The DP had been insisting that a caretaker government be formed to organise free and fair elections, and for Rama to step down. It claimed that the Socialists would buy votes with money gained from criminal activities. 

Meanwhile, Rama has accused the opposition of launching the boycott in an attempt to obstruct ongoing judicial reforms. 

“We won. Albania will have free and fair election. We will participate in the parliamentary election. Let’s dismantle the tent,” Basha said at 2am on May 18 after the agreement was reached, according to Albanian Daily News.

There were already signs the two sides were approaching an agreement, as on May 17 Basha sent a letter to Rama expressing his readiness for a consensus based on a US proposal for overcoming the crisis. 

After the agreement, the complaint filed by the opposition Environmental Agrarian Party to the Electoral College that aimed to put into question the legality of the registration process for candidates was withdrawn.

The Environmental Agrarian Party was the sole party from the opposition registered for the general election, and was used as an instrument by the DP for filing the complaint to the Electoral College.

Holding free and fair elections and implementation of judicial reforms are key for Albania to start the long-awaited EU accession talks this year. The country gained candidate status in 2014, but has not yet opened any negotiation chapters.