Flares ignite dissent as the opposition battles against allegations of corruption, risking the nation’s political future in a high-stakes clash with the ruling Socialists.
In recent months, Albanian opposition parties have resorted to disruptive tactics, including flares and noise, to protest what they perceive as the authoritarian rule of the governing Socialist Party.
On Thursday, despite opposition claims of obstruction by the left-wing Socialists, lawmakers successfully passed the annual budget and other draft laws.
The unrest traces its origins back to October, coinciding with prosecutors accusing 79-year-old Sali Berisha, the former prime minister and president, and current leader of the center-right Democratic Party, of corruption related to a land-buying scheme under legal investigation in the capital, Tirana.
In Parliament, opposition members routinely employ tactics such as piling up chairs, using flares, starting small fires, and physically seizing microphones when Socialist counterparts speak.
Prime Minister Edi Rama’s governing Socialists, holding 74 out of 140 seats, easily passed the 2024 budget in an eight-minute vote and subsequently closed the session.
The opposition, led by Berisha, vows to escalate their resistance until they secure the right to establish investigative committees.
This disruption in Parliament poses a potential obstacle to essential reforms, particularly as the European Union has embarked on the process of aligning Albanian laws with EU standards, following the bloc’s decision to initiate membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.
Albania, a NATO member since 2009, faces a critical juncture in its political landscape.
Why is the Opposition Protesting?
The opposition objects to the government’s use of Public Private Partnership projects (PPP), initiated by Rama’s Cabinet.
These projects involve capital ventures tendered to private companies due to the government’s lack of funds. In return, these companies receive an annual fee over several years.
Alleging misappropriation of public funds for personal gain, the opposition insists that parliamentary investigative commissions should scrutinize purported corruption cases involving Rama and other high-ranking government officials.
Recent convictions, including that of a former Albanian environment minister for bribery over an incinerator contract, fuel the opposition’s claims.
Despite the government asserting the unconstitutionality of the opposition’s requests, citing a Constitutional Court ruling that bars the establishment of a parliamentary commission during ongoing judicial proceedings, the opposition persists in its demands.
Protests Yield No Results for a Divided Opposition
After a decade in opposition, the center-right Democratic Party, led by the longest-serving politician in post-communist Albania, Sali Berisha, finds itself weakened and fragmented.
Berisha and his family members faced travel restrictions imposed by the United States and the United Kingdom due to alleged involvement in corruption.
Prime Minister Rama contends that Berisha exploits the remnants of the once-dominant Democratic Party for personal gain in legal battles.
While Berisha was previously capable of gathering substantial support at rallies, he now resorts to disrupting parliamentary sessions.
Any Solution in Sight?
Opposition lawmakers, without specifying their plans, have pledged to intensify protests. Berisha has called for “civil disobedience,” yet disruptions have been limited to Parliament, and rally calls have not materialized.
Meanwhile, the governing Socialists continue with their regular activities, highlighting Parliament’s approval of the largest-ever budget, twice the size of 2013 when the Democrats relinquished power.
The political standoff persists with both sides maintaining their positions, leaving no indication of a forthcoming resolution, a pattern consistent with post-communist Albania, where solutions often require intervention by international mediators.