Tirana, Albania | 28 Dec 2018 (Tirana Echo) – Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has announced a major reshuffle of his socialist government with 9 of his ministerial cabinet members replaced, amid growing frustration by public university students and other segments of the small Balkan nation.
As previously rumored across local media, cabinet changes were announced by Edi Rama during his annual Socialist Party assembly in Tirana with several new unexpected names assuming ministerial responsibilities and others making a comeback.
Following two weeks of massive public university students’ protests over university fees and general living conditions, Education Minister Lindita Nikolla is replaced by her deputy Besa Shahini, a young political analyst and former civil society activist from Kosovo.
Economy & Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj has been replaced by Anila Denaj while Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati has also been replaced by his deputy Genti Caka, also from Kosovo.
Among other appointments, Bledi Cuci takes over agriculture instead of Niko Peleshi, Elva Margariti takes over culture from Mirela Kumbro, Eduard Shalsi will lead the enterprise portfolio replacing Sonila Qato while former socialist youth leader Elisa Spiropali takes over relations with the parliament replacing Ermonela Felaj.
Two other key appointments include Belinda Balluku as new Minister of Energy replacing Damian Gjiknuri and flamboyant and popular socialist MP Erion Brace as the new Deputy Prime Minister, instead of Senida Mesi.
The cabinet reshuffle comes as people in Albania grow increasingly frustrated with the lack of social and economic progress and as public university protests have sparked fears of broader widespread manifestations across the small Balkan country.
Despite a recent ‘university pact’ proposed by the prime minister, student protesters have warned they will continue their manifestations after the Christmas break.
Speaking in front of his socialist assembly, Edi Rama acknowledged the student movement as a determining factor and invited his party members to see the changes as a necessary reflection in order to prepare the ground for a third ruling mandate in 2021.
“The students have shown us the path to a third mandate. It is evident that ministers being replaced today have played a very positive role. All of those who have served for the past 5 years, will leave their place to others.” – said Rama.
Opposition leader Lulzim Basha labelled the cabinet changes as a mere facade.
“Changes in the government show that the Socialist Party has turned into a group of clappers for Edi Rama who only decides in his own interest. Such changes show the degraded mental state of Edi Rama. The fish stinks from his head.” – said Democratic Party Chairman Basha.
Similarly, in an unprecedented reaction, the country’s President Ilir Meta commented that the philosophy of governance is more important than ministerial names, hinting at possible fresh conflicts with PM Rama over the new year.
“What is important for me is a renewed philosophy of governing which should be one of cooperation, with the opposition and interest groups in order to draft better laws to bring the changes the people in difficulty need and in order to strengthen the middle classes of Albania.” – said Meta after the reshuffle.
The cabinet shake-up comes as Albania prepares for local elections in June 2019, with the socialist party still favorite to take the majority of the country’s cities. However, growing dissatisfaction with the lack of progress may result in a major boycott of elections as over 60% of the population have expressed their wish to emigrate elsewhere if it had the chance to do so.
By reshuffling his cabinet and changing half of his ministers, PM Rama hopes to calm down widespread frustration at growing fuel prices and lack of decent employment opportunities coupled with ongoing political conflict in the country.
Albania hopes to officially start negotiations for EU membership next year, as around 79% of its youth wish to leave the country for better opportunities abroad, according to a recent Gallup poll.
Edi Rama has vowed his government will crack down on pervasive corruption and that Albania deserves the opening of accession talks with the European Union.
The European Union has conditioned Albania’s accession upon tangible progress in its fight against endemic corruption and organized crime and a steady progress in its ambitious reform of its judicial system.
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