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Washington Post: Why the Albanian opposition is protesting with fire and noise in the parliament

Washington Post: Why the Albanian opposition is protesting with fire and noise

For months, Albanian opposition parties have used fire and noise to disrupt Parliament in protest at what they describe as the authoritarian rule of the ruling Socialist Party.

On Thursday, lawmakers approved the annual budget and other bills, despite opposition claims that leftist socialists have blocked the creation of commissions to investigate allegations of government corruption.

The unrest began in October shortly before prosecutors charged Sali Berisha, 79, a former prime minister and former president and now head of the center-right Democratic Party, with corruption in connection with a land-buying scheme that is under legal investigation in capital, Tirana. .

Opposition MPs regularly crowd chairs, use flares, light small fires and even physically grab microphones when their Socialist counterparts take the floor.

The ruling Socialists, led by Prime Minister Edi Rama, have 74 of the 140 seats in Parliament, enough to approve the 2024 budget in an eight-minute vote and then close the session.

The opposition vows to increase its struggle until its right to create investigative commissions is accepted. The split in the Parliament could be an obstacle to much needed reforms at a time when the European Union has agreed to start the process of harmonizing Albanian laws with those of the EU. Last year, the bloc agreed to start membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. After 18 months of verification, Brussels said that Albania is ready to take the next step and start negotiations for separate chapters. Albania is a member of NATO since 2009.

Why is the Opposition protesting?

The opposition is protesting the use of Public Private Partnership, or PPP, projects initiated by the Rama Cabinet. Because the government lacks its own funds, it tenders capital projects to private companies, which then receive an annual fee for several years. The opposition claims that public money from PPPs has been misused for personal gain, and parliamentary investigative commissions will investigate suspected cases of corruption involving Rama and other senior government officials.

In September, a former Albanian environment minister was convicted and jailed, along with other officials, for taking bribes for a contract to build an incinerator. A former Socialist deputy prime minister fled the country after being accused of corruption in a case related to another incinerator. A former Socialist health minister has also been charged with corruption in connection with a 100 million euro ($100 million) PPP contract for a laboratory to sterilize and distribute medical equipment. The government says the opposition's demands are unconstitutional, following a decision by the Constitutional Court that a parliamentary commission cannot be set up while the judiciary deals with a case.

Protests have no results

After 10 years in opposition, the center-right Democratic Party is weakened and fractured, with the main faction headed by Berisha, the longest-serving politician in post-communist Albania. In May 2021, Berisha and his family members were banned by the United States from entering the country, and later the United Kingdom, due to their alleged involvement in corruption.

Prime Minister Rama says that Berisha is using what is left of the once dominant Democratic Party for his personal gain in the legal battle. Whereas before he could rally thousands of supporters at rallies, Berisha is now limited to disrupting Parliament sessions.

Any solution in Albania?

Opposition lawmakers have vowed to increase their protests, without explaining how. Berisha has called for "civil disobedience", but so far only Parliament has been suspended. Calls for rallies have failed to turn into reality.

For their part, the ruling Socialists are trying to work as normal, noting that Parliament has passed its biggest ever budget, twice the size of 2013 when the Democrats left power. Both sides are maintaining their position, with no sign of sitting down to find a solution, which in post-communist Albania has often come only after the intervention of international mediators. Translated by  the Washington Post


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