Supporters of Albania’s opposition Democratic Party (DP) staged a mass protest 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.
Albania is due to hold parliamentary elections on June 18. Together with the key judicial reforms currently in progress, this could pave the way for the country, an EU candidate since June 2014, to launch long-awaited EU accession negotiations.
The Socialist-led coalition has a majority in parliament after defeating the Democrats in 2013, and Rama is expected to remain in his position at least until the election. However, threats from the opposition Democrats not to participate in the election if he continues as prime minister could undermine the legitimacy of the election at a critical time for Albania.
Over 10,000 people participated in the protest, which started at midday local time.
The opposition party accused the government of corruption, failure to bring cannabis kingpins to justice, increasing poverty and fraud in previous local elections.
Some of the protesters pitched a tent in front of the prime minister’s office, and warned they will stay there until the government resigns. Sources within the Democratic Party said they did not exclude the possibility of launching a hunger strike.
The protests “will last as long as the people decide,” DP leader Lulzim Basha said. “Today, we begin the journey towards a new beginning,” Basha told the protestors in a speech published on the DP website.
Basha also said that his party wants a decent future for Albanian citizens and for the interests of ordinary people to be made a priority.
Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri said that protestors can stay in tents as long as they want if they do not cause any incidents, according to news provider Albanian Daily News.
The head of the DP parliamentary group Edi Paloka confirmed that the opposition will not participate in the election if Rama is not removed from the prime minister position, Albanian Daily News reported on February 18.
“A free and fair election can be realised only if this government resigns,” Paloka was cited.
However, Rama dismissed the opposition protests in Tirana as ridiculous, saying that the next parliamentary election will be free and fair “despite the fact that the opposition is obstructing the electoral reforms”.
Rama accused the protestors of not wanting the judicial reforms or the vetting law for judges and prosecutors to be implemented.
On February 15, MEPs adopted a resolution on Albania in which they said that credible implementation of justice reform, good progress in fighting organised crime and corruption, and holding free and fair elections in June 2017 could be the key to advancing the EU accession process and starting negotiations.
On the other hand, a deterioration the political situation could affect Albania’s economic growth this year. The European Commission recently kept its forecast for Albania's economic growth in 2017 unchanged at 3.5% but said that increased political uncertainty related to the parliamentary election in June 2017 might dampen consumption and investment.
Albania also needs to amend its electoral code before the June election. The opposition is insisting on introducing electronic voting and counting, an option which is not likely to be realised as the time to prepare for the election is short. The election commission in Tirana plans to spend €5.4mn to prepare for the elections.