Albania Opposition Boycotts Opening Parliamentary Session Amid Fears of Tensions Ahead of Local Elections

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Tirana, Albania | Sept 04, 2018 (Tirana Echo) – Albania’s Parliament reconvened yesterday after a month of recess with both opposition parties boycotting the start of the parliamentary season, signalling renewed tensions ahead of next year’s local elections.

Instead, MPs of the main opposition Democratic Party (PD) and of its smaller ally the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) gathered in the northern city of Shkodra, accusing Edi Rama’s government of links with criminal groups.

DP Lulzim Basha accused the government of being unable to tackle crime while noting that in three months Shkodra has witnessed 6 Mafioso-style murders and two kidnappings.

Rama cooperated openly with criminal gangs in Shkodra, during the elections worked with the Bajraj klan and now has lost all power to impose the rule of law. It is our duty to find the ways, action and the political platform which will end this dire situation and to give the country its security and democracy,” – said Basha during his speech in Shkodra.

However, Socialist majority representatives accused the opposition of playing against Albania’s European integration interests and of staining the country’s image abroad.

I invite all political groups to separate the battle for power from our common battle for European integration. This should be the main objective of this parliament, and it will not change. We should learn from the Croatian parliament which worked to bring their country closer to the EU thanks to a consensus of all sides.” – said Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruçi during his opening speech at the plenary.

Albania’s Prime Minister reacted by ironically teasing Basha on his incapacity to mobilise a strong opposition in the country.

When he should be in Tirana, he goes to Shkodra. When he should enter elections, he goes into a tent. When he should go to work, he goes round and round in his sleep. When he loses, he proclaims victory. We can’t do anything, we have to do without him. All our attention is on the people.” – wrote Rama on his Twitter account.

Coming out of the Shkodra meeting, former Prime Minister and DP ‘strongman’ Sali Berisha accused the police of being one with criminal gangs in the country and called on people to bring down the government.

My call for the people is to bring down this government at any price. Any patience has a limit, any price is worth it to liberate Albanians from this regime which is sending them away across the world and which is denigrating them the same as during the communist dictatorship.” – said Berisha.

The opposition has vowed to come up with a commonly agreed political platform within 10 days to “liberate the government from crime”, during which time there will be no normal participation in parliament.

The boycott of the parliamentary season opening plenary signals heightened tensions ahead of next year’s local elections, as the opposition is performing poorly according to several non-public internal polls.  

Albania is a candidate country for European Union membership and its socialist government expects to formally open accession talks next June, following a positive recommendation of the European Commission and a decision by the European Council earlier this year.

The country’s European integration has stalled in the past because of endemic corruption and constant political conflicts in parliament, with the opposition often blocking or boycotting plenary sessions and committees.

Ahead of last year’s general elections, the European Union denounced the Democratic Party’s threats to boycott elections as “not in line with European democratic standards”.

Although the DP later ended its boycott thanks to a deal between Lulzim Basha and Edi Rama known as the ‘18 May Agreement’, the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn warned Albanian leaders would be held accountable for preventing their people’s “legitimate aspirations … for a better future.

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