By David L. Phillips/
Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama threatened to fire President Ilir Meta for postponing local elections. Meta is justifiably concerned that a ballot in today’s volatile climate could cause violence and further undermine Albania’s EU candidacy. Moreover, Meta was exercising his legal authority pursuant to article 92 of the constitution, which empowers the President with the authority to determine the date of elections for parliament and local government. Rather than brinksmanship, Albania needs dialogue and a transition plan to strengthen democracy.
What motivates Edi Rama?
Rama’s attack on Meta has little to do with the electoral process. His
confrontational approach is a blatant bid to consolidate power by marginalizing
opponents who demand good government and accountability for corruption.
Hundreds of thousands of Albanians protested over the weekend. They believe Rama stole national elections in June 2017, and demand his resignation.
Protesters also demand accountability for corruption. The Voice of America recently published an expose of Rama’s efforts to manipulate hiring in the prison system. A leaked transcript revealed collusion between the former director of Albania’s penitentiary system and parliamentarians in Rama’s Socialist Party (SP).
If Washington supports justice reform, it should distance itself from Albanian politicians like Rama who act more like gangsters than statesmen. Rama has become a national embarrassment. It is time for him to go.
Rama’s departure from politics should be part of the following plan to stabilize Albania:
1. Rama would immediately resign as prime minister. He would receive immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for a pledge to disassociate from politics now and in the future.
2. An interim multi-party technocratic government would be established to manage Albania’s political and economic affairs. Individuals with integrity would be tasked with ensuring accountability and guiding the country.
3. Albania’s Central Election Commission (CEC) would be reconstituted with participation by experts from the UN Office of Electoral Assistance and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
4. The revamped CEC would hold concurrent local and national elections on June 30, 2020. Domestic and international election monitors would work to ensure that the ballot is free and fair.
This plan can only work with support from the United States. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matthew A. Palmer maintains that the U.S. is committed “to using all the tools that we have to support the fight against organized [crime], to support the fight against corruption, to support accountability, transparency and good governance.” Sounds good, but talk is cheap.
The United States, which has always supported democracy and the rule of law in Albania, is on the wrong side of Albania’s domestic debate. The State Department blames the opposition for exercising its freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Instead, US officials should hold Rama accountable for ordering the security services to use tear gas and truncheons on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in Skanderbeg Square over the weekend.
Why does the US stand by Rama when he is so clearly a part of the problem? Rama’s demeanor brings shame to honorable Albanians. His trash-talking uses language unbecoming a gentleman, no less a head of government.
Rama recklessly denigrated Voice of America, saying its reporting comes from the “trash bin.” Rama endorsed legislation restricting media freedoms, which was condemned by the European Federation of Journalists, European Centre for Press & Media Freedom, PEN International and Reporters Without Borders. SP media legislation is a Trojan Horse for censorship, which violates the constitution and threatens freedom of expression.
Albania’s institutions are in disarray. It has not had a functional Constitutional Court for more than a year. Problems with the rule of law are aggravated by non-functionality of the High Court.
Bild, the reputable German publication, recently published an investigative piece documenting how the mafia manipulates elections in Albania. Narcotics revenue is widely rumored to support the SP.
Rama’s departure would enhance democracy, creating space for young leadership in the SP and other parties to more fully emerge. I have nothing against Edi Rama personally. Simply put, I have worked on Albanian issues for 30 years and love Albania. Rama is a dinosaur who has outlived his usefulness. Rama should go into exile. After leaving Albania, Rama can go to Antalya and grow old with his friends and autocratic ally, Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the US Department of State during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. He is author of Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and US Intervention (Harvard’s Kennedy School).