Four ministers resign in Albania as tensions rise ahead of June elections

Thu 16 Mar 2017

Four ministers resign in Albania as tensions rise ahead of June elections

On March the 12th Albanian Prime Minister Rama (Socialist Party, SPA) announced that the Interior Minister, Health Minister, Youth and Social welfare Minister, and Local issues Minister had resigned from their post. Rama said that they left on a good note and that they would be focusing on the campaign for the June 18 parliamentary elections. They will be replaced by: Fatmir Xhafaj (Interior Minister), Olta Xhacka (Youth and Social welfare Minister), Ogerta Manastirliu (Health Minister) and Eduard Shalsi (Local issues Minister).

Rama denied allegations that  his coalition partner the LSI (Socialist Movement for Integration) demanded the resignations, or that the ministers left as concession to the opposition.

Ongoing protests and boycott of parliament

Rama has been under heavy pressure from the opposition who want him to resign. On February the 18th protests, which are still ongoing, erupted in front of the prime minister’s office. Hundreds of opposition supporters have been demanding a new, technocrat, government and free elections. The opposition fears that large sums of money, earned though cannabis cultivation, will have a big influence on the elections. The Prime Minister has been accused of being unwilling to tackle widespread cannabis cultivation in order to keep good relations with those involved. This claim was denied by officials of his party.

Since the protests started the Democratic Party has boycotted the parliament, with its leader Lulzim Basha accusing the government of corruption and having links to criminal activities. Basha has urged Albanian citizens to follow in the footsteps of the Romanian protesters and stand up against corrupt politicians.

Rama has stated that he won’t step back and that his centre-left government is committed to making sure that  the elections are free and fair. He has also accused the opposition of using the protests to obstruct the reform process, in order to prevent certain judges from being vetted.

EU response

The EU condemned the protests saying that issues regarding the elections should be solved in parliament. European Commissioner Johannes Hahn added that the presence of opposition parties is of importance for the implementation of the planned judicial reforms. Earlier, in January, the EU stressed the importance of free and fair elections, saying they are necessary if Albania wants to hold accession talks with the EU.

Sources: Balkan Insight 1, Balkan Insight 2, Balkan Insight 3, Balkan Insight 4, Balkan Insight 5, DW, Reuters