Concerns are emerging in Brussels and Washington about attempts to block #Albania justice system reforms

| June 15, 2017 | 0 Comments


Amid a growing chorus of dissent within Albania’s opposition Democratic Party, concerns are emerging in Brussels and Washington about attempts to block the nation’s justice system reforms, 
writes Martinn Banks.

The reforms, aimed at ridding the courts of corrupt and incompetent judges and prosecutors, is a key prerequisite before EU accession negotiations can begin but was being blocked by a three-month parliamentary boycott led by DP leader Lulzim Basha. That was resolved after Socialist Party Prime Minister Edi Rama agreed to delay parliamentary elections by a week and allow the DP to appoint a number of “technical” ministers to the government during the electoral period.

However, factions are now challenging the reforms before Albania’s constitutional court, prompting international concern. “The much needed justice reform in Albania has once again come under attack,” a spokesman for the EU’s External Action Service said yesterday. “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.”

The US embassy in Tirana issued a similar statement. “The Albanian people should be concerned about these efforts to weaken the reform, in order to defend corrupted judges and prosecutors, including the ones who have connections with the organized crime,” it said.

Simultaneously, criticisms are being aired about the Democratic Party’s de-selection of a number of DP electoral candidates who had been supporters of the justice reform. In an exclusive interview with this website, one senior party member branded Basha a “petty autocrat”.

The DP member, a sitting MP, said that if, as expected, DP loses the general election on 25 June Basha should resign and “face the consequences.” The MP declined to be named for fear of further retribution.

The MP accused Basha of trying to “silence” critics in the party and blocking their selection as DP candidates in the upcoming election.

Those in the party who had supported judicial reforms opposed by Basha and partly designed to help pave the way for Albania’s EU accession negotiations to re-start, had “paid the price”.

Latest opinion polls show DP, which only recently lifted its boycott of the election, is likely to lose the poll to the ruling Socialist Party.

A poll by Italy’s Istituto Piepoli released on Tuesday (13 June) said that if the election were held today, the Socialist party would take 49-53 per cent of the vote, compared with 29-33 per cent for the DP. Potentially, the pollsters said the SP vote could bring the party close to achieving a majority in the 140-seat parliament.

In Brussels, one of the MEPs closely involved in mediation efforts prior to the election campaign said, “Nothing seems to have been resolved in Albania where one of the two mainstream political parties seems to be descending into political crisis and is dominated by an authoritarian leadership.” The MEP declined to be named.

The Albanian MP agreed to be interviewed to highlight “widespread disagreements and dissatisfaction” with the party leadership. Internal party decision-making and democracy are widely regarded as problematic in Albania’s young democracy.

The parliamentarian told this website: “It isn’t just me voicing concern. There were at least 10 senior party members who spoke out against the party’s leadership  and who, like me, were subsequently not selected to stand as candidates in the election.

“We have been forced to pay the price for merely expressing concern at the lack of internal democracy in our own party.”

Those “de-selected” include a former EU integration minister, a former speaker of the Albania parliament, a former deputy chairman of the party and a former minister of finance.

The  comments come after a three-month standoff that had blocked progress on reforms to Albania’s government recently ended, as the ruling parties and opposition reached agreement on how to resolve their conflict.

It is hoped the agreement could also revive Albania’s stalled effort to join the European Union. It creates bodies to vet judges and prosecutors, in a first step toward an independent judiciary, a key condition for accession talks with the EU.

“This is something we had been calling for all along,” said the Democratic Party MP, adding, “because it was good not only for the party but for Albania’s relations with the EU.”

The DP parliamentarian said there are “factions” within DP that are angry about Basha’s campaign strategy and his refusal to consult with others.

The MP said, “There has been a lack of coherence in the way he has conducted the election campaign. It is not just about electoral lists but the way he has run the campaign with the opposition to the judicial reforms, which are needed to ensure there is proper vetting of judges and prosecutors, being a case in point.

“Some have chosen to remain silent but others have been vocal in their criticism of Basha and have paid the price by being left off the list of candidates. We have tried to find a way out of the impasse and the decision in February to boycott parliament and also the election. I personally pointed out that there is no way a political party should ever boycott an election. This call was shared by other prominent figures in the party.” And now, ironically, those who had asked Basha not to boycott the election find themselves omitted from the party’s electoral list, and unable to run, the MP said.

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