A three-month standoff that had blocked progress on reforms to Albania’s government ended yesterday (18 May), as the ruling parties and the opposition reached agreement on how to resolve their conflict.
Under pressure from European and US officials, the opposition finally gave up on its full demands.
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 towards an independent judiciary, a key condition for accession talks with the EU.
Albania, home to about 2.8 million people, has been a member of NATO since 2009 and earned EU candidate status in 2014.
The development took place only two days after Western pressure solved the political crisis in Macedonia, five months after an election in the troubled Balkan country.
“We have reached an agreement …,” opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said, flanked by Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Rama and Basha agreed to let the opposition control seven ministries by appointing technocrats, including the interior ministry.
A general election will be postponed by one week, to 25 June. The opposition will pick the head of an election commission.
The opposition agreed to return to parliament after boycotting it for three months, in order to pass a bill that would set up the agency to vet judges and weed out corrupt magistrates.
The deal came exactly three months after Basha led the Democrats in a rally demanding a technocratic government.
Opposition lawmakers pitched a tent in the main boulevard of the capital, Tirana, turning it into their own parliament of daily anti-government speeches.
The EU and the United States, who have been pushing Albania to reform the judiciary, hailed Albanians for their patience and the two leaders for forging what appeared a durable agreement.
After three months of watching Basha and Rama threaten, taunt and bait each other with fiery speeches of revolution and “a new republic sweeping away the old”, Albanians felt relieved they talked for three hours and shook hands later.
“We urge the two main leaders to end at the same time with this detailed agreement the institutional crises created and solved in the restricted circle of the political leaders,” said the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers.
The ruling Socialists and the Democrats also agreed to start implementing constitutional and electoral reforms when parliament reconvened.
A court on Thursday delayed a judgement on whether the ruling Socialists and other parties had failed to respect the deadline to register for the election. The opposition parties had failed to register, vowing to boycott the polls.
The leaders of six Western Balkan countries are scheduled to meet with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on 24 May to discuss ways to overcome rising tensions and further their bids to join the EU.
— Ville Kostian (@Kostian_V) May 19, 2017
Mogherini has invited the leaders of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia to discuss the region’s fast-moving political developments at a working dinner in Brussels.
The aim, her office said yesterday, was “to discuss the situation in the region” and “look together at the way forward.”
The dinner will also serve as a follow-up to Mogherini’s visit to the region in March, it said.