The Albanian Parliament elected an interim chief prosecutor on December 18 despite violent protests staged by the opposition Democratic Party (DP), which considers the move unconstitutional, and amid smoke bombs let off in the assembly. The Democrats believe that the new chief prosecutor will work for the interests of the governing Socialists, who they accuse of having links to drug traffickers.
The election of an interim prosecutor has been recommended by the EU after the sacking of the previous official, who was close to the Democrats. The government plans to elect a permanent chief prosecutor to lead the clean-up of the country's corrupt judiciary, something it sees as vital for the country's ambitions for EU accession, but which is opposed by the Democrats, who fear the purge will be used to remove judges who have blocked investigations into allegations of their past corruption.
Several thousand protesters gathered in front of the Assembly waving EU and US flags in a protest announced a few days earlier by the Democratic Party, which sees the election of the chief prosecutor as unacceptable, Albanian Daily News reported.
Albanian opposition supporters clashed with the police as they tried to enter the parliament to prevent the vote. Several people, including one police officer, were injured in the riots as some demonstrators threw gas canisters. MPs from the opposition also threw smoke bombs in the parliament building during the vote.
However, the governing Socialist Party managed to elect Arta Marku as interim general prosecutor with 69 votes in favour, two against and two abstenstions. The opposition boycotted the vote. The swearing-in ceremony was held under a cloud of smoke.
Following the vote, the DP leader Lulzim Basha said that his party will not accept the “constitutional coup” and that this is the start of a national uprising. The protest ended, but the Democrats announced that new demonstrations will be held as early as in January.
Basha said that election of Marku serves only one purpose, which is to rescue ex-interior minister Saimir Tahiri, who is under investigation for links with drug traffickers, and also PM Edi Rama, whom he said, is the most corrupt prime minister in Europe.
Last week the court decided that Tahiri cannot leave the country, while an investigation on his alleged ties with marijuana traffickers is ongoing.
Rama has been accused by the Democrats of links with international drug trafficking networks and corrupt affairs – allegations he denies – which the opposition claim is why he wants to decide on the new prosecutor.
Regarding the chief prosecutor, seven candidates filed applications for the post, which was vacant after the five-year mandate of the previous holder of the position, Adriatik Llalla, close to Democrats, expired this month. The EU and US missions in Albania have proposed the election of an interim chief prosecutor to avoid a vacuum in the position, as the new body that will manage the process to select the head prosecutor, under the ongoing judicial reforms in Albania, has not yet been established.
Marku, 41, served as prosecutor in the city of Shkodra and was deputy director of Shkodra prosecution office until 2016. She will serve as interim chief prosecutor until a new person is elected for a five-term mandate.
Judicial reforms, including the election of the new chief prosecutor, is crucial for Albania to make further progress towards EU accession and for the country to be invited to launch membership talks next year.