Albania – Opposition MPs threaten to quit parliamentary mandates, further escalating the political crisis

DP Chairman Lulzim Basha during a plenary at the Albanian Parliament

Tiana, Albania | 18 Feb 2019 – Albania’s main opposition leader has asked his MPs to abandon their parliamentary mandates, following a massive opposition protest which turned violent on Saturday, further escalating the political crisis in the small Balkan nation.

During an unprecedented announcement by Democratic Party Chairman Lulzim Basha last night,  he confirmed he will ask the highest political forums of the party to decide on the voluntary surrender of all parliamentary mandates, sending Albania into an unprecedented parliamentary crisis.

I assure you that I have understood your message very clearly. This is why I have decided to propose to the parliamentary group and the highest decision-making forums of the Democratic Party the surrender of our parliamentary mandates, in support of your European aspirations to defend democracy and the rule of law. We want a transitory government, free and fair elections and a parliament of the people, not of the crime,” said Mr. Basha during his press conference.

DP Chair Basha said the fault for the violent acts during the opposition rally on Saturday lies with the Prime Minister and indirectly rebuffed western diplomatic representatives which were swift to condemn the violence in Tirana’s streets.

Rama ordered the violating of your rights, later terrorizing protesters. In Europe, when a government is caught stealing, they don’t beat up the people, they don’t poison the people, but the government goes and thieves are punished.” – said Basha.

Comments of the democrat leader are seen as a rebuff on statements made by EU & US diplomatic representatives following violent acts by opposition supporters against the PM office building.

The United States, the European Union and other international institutions had called on the opposition to hold a peaceful rally and later condemned the violence displayed by some of its supporters.

 “Damaging public property and resorting to violence are not acceptable.  We urge all sides to do their utmost to avoid further violence and disruption.” said the EU Delegation in Tirana following Saturday’s protest.

In a similar condemnation the US Embassy in Tirana issued a statement, calling on all parties to show restraint and refrain from violent acts.

The United States Embassy strongly condemns the violence and destruction taking place during today’s protests in Tirana. We uphold the citizens’ right to peaceful protest, but the damaging of public property and violence are not acceptable. We urge all parties to show better restraint and restore calm. We call on all political parties to renounce these acts and to take all necessary steps to ensure that the situation becomes peaceful and constructive.” read the US statement.

It is yet unclear whether the drastic measure is a decision of the DP to quit its 33 parliamentary mandates, or of the entire opposition block.

There are no confirmations coming from DP’s smaller opposition ally the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), however, its chairwoman Monika Kryemadhi said last night that “the battle against Rama goes on. He has seen nothing yet,”.

According to the electoral code of Albania, the parliamentary mandate of a member of parliament ends when he or she resigns from it, or when he or she fails to show in parliament for a consecutive period of 6 months.

The DP has not confirmed yet whether its MPs intend to resign immediately from their mandates or whether they will wait for the 6 month period to end.

Speaking at a DP internal meeting this morning, former PM and historic leader of the democrats Sali Berisha said everything possible must be done in order to topple Rama’s government from power.

We have to undertake any action which brings Rama down. If we manage to give Albanian back their free right to vote, we would have made a righteous historical decision. If not, we remain a mere facade,” said Mr. Berisha.

During the same meeting, DP chair Lulzim Basha said this is a ‘national emergency’.

We are in debt towards our citizens, They trusted us and we have to be with them today. We are at a state of national emergency and it is up to us to lead Albanians.” said Basha.

However, talking to the socialist parliamentary group this morning, prime minister Edi Rama said the opposition is bluffing and that his party would concentrate on winning upcoming local elections in June.

Despite opposition acts, we have to be organized and ready for local elections. I don’t believe the opposition will find the necessary consensus to give up its mandates, however, we need to get better and see what needs to be improved,” Rama told his socialist MPs.

Albania hopes to formally start membership talks with the European Union later this year, and Rama’s socialists are keen to show some credible results in their reform of the highly corrupt justice system.

A special anti-corruption prosecutorial structure is expected to be erected in the following weeks which will be expected to investigate high level corruption and political links to organized crime which are highly pervasive in the small Balkan country.

European Union leaders agreed last June to start membership talks with Albania and Macedonia within 2019 if both small Balkan nations show substantial progress in their crucial rule of law reforms under way.

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