EU steps up pressure on #Albania opposition to take part in upcoming election

| April 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

The US ambassador to Albania says that the upcoming election in Albania could go ahead without the participation of the opposition Democratic party, writes Martin Banks.

Donald Lu (pictured), ambassador since 2014, said it was “better” if the 18 June election had the participation of all political parties.

But, in an interview, he added: “Also, it is true that elections can be considered legal and legitimate even without the participation of the opposition.”

The diplomat was speaking after an EU attempt to broker a settlement in the current political crisis in Albania that threatens to overshadow the country’s election.

German MEPs David McAllister and Knut Fleckenstein travelled to Tirana, the Albanian capital,earlier this week to mediate between the country’s warring political factions in an effort to end an impasse following the opposition’s boycott of parliament and the election.

On Tuesday, the two parliamentarians held meetings with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta and chairman of the Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, whose party has been boycotting the parliament since February and vows not to participate in the elections.

The deputies, who come from the EPP and Socialist groups in the European Parliament, spent several hours talking to Albanian leaders. But the meeting broke up without agreement and the Parliament negotiators accepted they had not been successful in ending Albania’s increasingly tense political stalemate.

Prime Minister Rama reportedly agreed to all the points presented by the two MEPs, agreeing to postpone the election and committing to certain pre-election government changes.

However, Basha refused to accept what many saw as an olive branch, saying the document did not mention a caretaker government – a key DP demand for an end to its boycott.

On Friday (28 April), McAllister told this website: “Some progress was made. However, the essential questions of the election date and the possible formation of a technocrat interim government remain unresolved.”

Reaction to the continued impasse was swift with Romanian MEP Monica Macovei, who chairs the European Parliament’s delegation to the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee, criticising the Democratic Party for its  continued refusal to end the boycott.

The ECR deputy told this website: “Accountability of politicians to the voters and free and periodical elections are vital elements for any democracy. Albanian citizens have the right to make an informed and free choice when they vote. Politicians should respect people’s right to choose to whom to give the power to represent them.”

In their meetings, McAllister, chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and Fleckenstein, the assembly’s Standing Rapporteur on Albania, presented a document aimed at ending the current crisis, including a requirement for “free and fair” elections.

The document had been drafted earlier by the OSCE mission, United States and EU experts and partly relates to election standards including amendments to the Central Election Commission, which the MEPs proposed the DP could chair.

The proposals also related to decriminalization, the fight against narcotics, technical measures for improving the conduct of elections, and the political confidence building measures.  The MEPs also tabled ideas for discussion on the date of elections and possible pre-electoral changes to government structures to build long term confidence in the system.

On Friday, a spokesman for the EPP said: “For the majority side there was agreement on the points provided as long as vetting  would be voted in the Albania parliament but the DP stuck to its position that a technical Prime Minister be appointed and that an electronic voting system be adopted.”

In this week’s interview with Voice of America, ambassador Lu was asked if he was worried by an election scenario without the opposition.

He said: “We are clear in our belief that elections will be better if they have the participation of all political parties. We have not given up on this goal. Also, it is true that elections can be considered legal and legitimate even without the participation of the opposition. But to be clear, we must all agree that with the participation of the opposition these elections would be better. We are working every day to reach this conclusion.”

Lu added: “There is definitely room for solution. It is true that two days ago, negotiations did not yet produce a definitive solution. But I would say that negotiations are often not a one-day discussion.Negotiations are often a process, sometimes a long process. McAllister and Fleckenstein worked hard to find a solution. Both sides were willing to sit down and discuss issues. This should continue. And I have full confidence that there are smart people in Albania who work every day to find a solution.”

Further comment came from the EU’s High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini, who said: “We regret the parliamentary boycott in Albania and that the opposition has not yet registered to participate in the elections. The political debate should not take place outside, but inside the parliament according to democratic practise. Citizens deserve responsible leadership.”

She “once again” urged “all political leaders to act responsibly, with respect for institutions, and pave the way for democratic elections, in line with international standards”.

The Italian official told this website: “More specifically, the much needed justice reform in Albania has once again come under attack. We call on all parties to complete the formation of the vetting institutions. Attacking the judicial reform rather than ensuring implementation of vetting, with close monitoring of the International Monitoring Operation, harms Albania’s present and future.

“We expect that MPs will show responsibility, capacity to act within the democratic legitimate institutional framework, and that they stand by the people of Albania, who continue to demand that the vetting is launched and the judiciary eventually reformed, also as a crucial step for the country to join the EU.”

This week’s talks, which local reports say were cut short by Basha’s swift departure, represent the latest effort to find a solution to the dispute which has seen demonstrations outside Rama’s office and angry clashes between the two sides.

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