Domestic Policy

The Albanian Unrest: A new hurdle in the path of European integration?

Weeks of political and social unrest in Albania. The opposition parties have jointly organized protests in the streets of Tirana in front of the main institutional buildings, asking for the resignation of the Prime Minister Edi Rama and for early elections. On the other hand, the head of government has denied all accusations of links with organized crime, stressing that opposition parties’ main goal is to retake a grip on power in view of negative results in the main polls.

The political situation in the country escalated on the 16th of February, when the opposition parties organized the first big protest after the ones of the students last December. Unlike the students’ protests – which were cross-cutting the whole electoral base and urged for a general overhaul of the education system – this one was characterized by two different features: (1) it had clear political leanings and demands: people asked for the resignation of Edi Rama and of the socialist government, deemed as corrupt; and (2) the most present segment of the population was composed by white males more than forty years old. This gives a snapshot of the nature of the recent social unrest in Albania. Although the unease is real, it is more confined to the old electoral base of the main opposition parties.

During the following days the member of the Parliaments of the protesting parties remitted their mandates, thus leaving the representative body without its opposition – recall that the Socialist Party has by its own the absolute majority of the seats and it rules without the need of a coalition. The political and institutional deadlock is exacerbated by the continuing protests, the last of which was held yesterday evening. Despite all the manifestations, the Prime Minister Edi Rama in many public speeches has reiterated its will not to resign, considering the past general elections (in June 2017) as fair and legitimated also by all the international observers.

This social mobilization does not seem to stem from a more general and horizontal unease. Rather it is deeply-rooted in a minority of the Albanian population. Thus it does not have general legitimation, since the Socialist Party is still polling high in the surveys. Moreover, it might also have the pitfall to lengthen the process of European integration for Albania. All the international bodies and institutions have criticized the organizers of the protest, calling the opposition parties to get back into the Parliament and channel there their political position.

Far from being a coup-d’état attempt, as many foreign commentators first envisaged, the ongoing protests could still harm the institutional consolidation of democracy in Albania. Indeed, we have to recall that this deadlock comes at a very delicate moment for Albania: it comes right in the middle of the judiciary reform, one of the most important steps towards having a functioning democracy and, thus, the opening of the negotiations with the European Union. A political and social turmoil is the last thing that the country needs.

The first (electoral) test bench for the government will be the local elections this June. We will need to pay attention to the flux of votes in comparison to the last general elections. Although local elections have more local logics – linked to the actual work of a certain administrative official on the ground – they will still be a marker for the actions of the ruling Socialist Party so far.

By Fabio Seferi

Fabio holds a Master's Degree in International Relations and European Studies from the University of Florence, Italy. His Master's thesis focused on the role and influence of Russia, Turkey and China in the Western Balkans. He has been Programme Assistant Intern at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, and Ad-Hoc Research Assistant for The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime. Fabio’s main research interests focus on conflicts, political violence, hybrid warfare, intelligence analysis and organised crime.

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