Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party (DP) boycotted the parliament on February 23 as its tent protest in Tirana’s central square entered its sixth day.
Supporters of the Democrats held a mass protest attended by over 10,000 people in Tirana on February 18, demanding the resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama. They want a caretaker government to be installed to organise a free and fair general election on June 18.
DP leader Lulzim Basha said on February 23 that he was starting a rival parliament in the marquee pitched by the party on the first day of the protest.
“A new Albanian parliament will start work in this tent on Thursday and we have invited any MPs without criminal records to join this arena of true democracy, as this is the Albanian parliament,” Basha said in a party statement.
“The only ones who are not invited to this tent are those 19 MPs with criminal records. They have no place either here or inside the parliament,” Basha said.
The protest continued despite an appeal from EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn to end the boycott and work with the government to implement crucial judicial reforms. Opposition activists have warned they will step up their activities in the coming days.
Meanwhile, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said on February 23 that he is against the opposition’s idea to create a caretaker government before the June general election.
In a Facebook post he said that the request from the opposition Democrats to "create a technical government, then a revision of the seven laws including the vetting law," is an absurd idea.
On the other hand, Rama said for the first time that it is possible the Socialists will accept the DP’s demand for electronic counting during the June 18 election, news provider Albanian Daily News reported.
"We have no problem with this," Rama was quoted as saying at the parliament session, held without the opposition,
According to Hahn, it is very important for parliamentary work to continue at a time when substantial reforms are on the agenda, such as setting up the vetting bodies as part of judicial reforms, as well as implementation of electoral reforms.
The upcoming election, together with the key judicial reforms currently in progress, could pave the way for Albania to launch long-awaited EU accession negotiations. The country has been an EU candidate since June 2014.
European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini will visit Albania as part of her Western Balkans mini-tour on March 1-4, and is expected to tackle the issue of the parliament boycott.
The Socialist Party has 65 seats in the 140-seat parliament while the Democrats, which were in power from 2005 until 2013 have 50 seats. The Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), which is in coalition with the SP, has 16 seats.
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