Albanian PM reshuffles cabinet as opposition threatens to boycott election

Albanian PM reshuffles cabinet as opposition threatens to boycott election
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje March 12, 2017

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has reshuffled his cabinet, as the opposition Democrats threaten to boycott the June 18 general election unless a caretaker government is installed.

The reshuffle, decided at a closed doors meeting of the ruling Socialist Party on March 11, is apparently in response to protests and a parliamentary boycott by the opposition. However, with just four ministers expected to be replaced, it falls short of the Democrats’ demands for a caretaker government and for Rama to be removed. The Democrats have already said the government’s concessions are too small for them to reconsider their boycott. 

Rama confirmed that four ministers will be replaced in his weekly address published on his Facebook page, but made it clear that these changes are not a result of the opposition protests or pressure from his coalition partner, the leader of the Socialist Movement for Integration, Ilir Meta. Rama added that the changes are being made only because the replaced ministers will be part of the pre-election campaign.

Albanian Daily News reported on March 11 that Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri has already resigned and will be replaced by Niko Peleshi, who currently serves as deputy prime minister. Sources told Albanian Daily News that Rama had accepted Tahiri's resignation. 

Tahiri was one of the most criticised ministers of the government after he was accused of being involved in organised crime and having connections with drug trafficking bosses.

Replacements are also planned for Health Minister Ilir Beqaj, Minister for Social Affairs Blendi Klosi and Minister for Local Issues Bledi Cuci.

All of the former ministers will be involved in the Socialist Party’s election campaign across the country.

The Democratic Party (DP)  has been staging protests since February 18. Its leader Lulzim Basha made it clear on March 12, the 23rd day of the protests, that they will not stop. The party does not want partial changes, but a caretaker government to prepare free and fair general elections, he said. 

A few days earlier, the Democrats threatened to boycott the parliamentary election if Rama would not resign, Albanian Daily News reported.

Opposition parties say they will not register with the central election commission if a political agreement that would secure free and fair elections is not signed.

Sources told Albanian Daily News that six small political parties have already promised to join the right-wing opposition's call for a boycott of the election.

The boycott of the parliament is already delaying the crucial EU-required judicial reforms needed for the country to obtain a date to launch the EU accession negotiations. Holding free and fair elections is another condition required to launch the negotiations. EU officials have repeatedly urged the Democrats to end the boycott.