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International Affairs

Albania 2022: “House of Freedom” vs. Drug-cartel


Albania

Although the European and global public is currently focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, majority of political parties in the Republic of Albania are focused on the partial local elections scheduled to take place on 6 March 2022. 

In Albania, local elections were held on 30 June 2019. The opposition boycotted the local elections. As a result, after the local elections candidates of Edi Rama’s Socialist Party (SP) occupied all the positions at the local government level.

The councilors elected at the illegal local elections, which were not announced by the President of the Republic of Albania Ilir Meta, in the entire state did not include representatives of the opposition. The Democratic Party (PD) boycotted the elections without well-founded reasons, although it would have been logical that it had participated in the elections and then offered justifiable reasons to boycott the work of municipal councils. 

Regular parliamentary elections were organized in Albania on 25 April 2021. There were irregularities in many aspects of the elections, just like in the case of the 2017 parliamentary elections. Both times the Socialist Party came to power after the elections. Some officials concealed their criminal background and hid data on convictions in other countries. In fact, the Special Anti-Corruption Structure (SPAK) had initiated procedures against certain members of the Socialist Party. 

Failed constitutional charges against national president Ilir Meta

The Albanian Parliament brought legally unfounded constitutional charges against the President of the Republic of Albania Ilir Meta, for allegedly interfering in the election campaign and thus directly violating the Constitution of the Republic of Albania. The Parliament that adopted the decision on impeachment of the President in June 2021 was incomplete.

As a result of the boycott by the opposition parties from two years ago, it lacked almost 20 representatives. The rump parliament had not just controversial constitutionality but also disputable legitimacy as some of the representatives (104), who comprised the quorum of the qualified majority, were not directly elected by the voters. In fact, they acted as the marionettes of the Socialist Party. Hence, in 2017 the voters did not trust Edi Rama and the Socialist Party with a sufficient number of mandates for impeachment of the head of the state.

In addition to these moral aspects, there are also various legal lacunas. The law expressly stipulates that parliamentary investigating commission cannot make decisions and conclusions in the last four months prior to the dissolution of the parliament. However, the respective commission did not adhere to these provisions when it put on vote its conclusions regarding the termination of the mandate of the head of the state of Albania.

With its action, it deprived Ilir Meta of the legitimate right to a hearing before the commission. A testimony of that are the facts that recently emerged about the scandalous forging of dates of submission of documents with the relevant office of the Parliament. 

The president’s rhetoric and initiatives were directly aimed against the events of violent crimes, including the ones that took place in Kavajë and Elbasan and the lack of readiness of Albanian law enforcement agencies to act in a timely manner.

The primary goal during the election campaign was to emphasize and raise awareness of the public about the fatal effects of massive purchase of votes, control of media and abuse of administrative resources and personal data of Albanian citizens by the ruling majority, as well as the right to free and fair elections. Prior to the elections and on the day of elections, President Ilir Meta made a statement and publicly called for massive turnout at elections, preservation of peace, but also went close to polling stations (Elbasan, Shijak, etc.)  to closely monitor the implementation of the process.

Contrary to that, Prime Minister Edi Rama publicly advocated use of the same mechanism of manipulation of voters that was used at the previous elections in Dibër and Durrësit (infamous files no. 184 and 339), using once again General Secretary of the Socialist Party Damjan Gjiknuri as the protagonist. Prime Minister Rama publicly requested from Gjiknuri to use in Vlorë in 2021 the “earthquake” mechanism that had been used in Dibër in 2017.

The only “campaigning” by President Ilir Meta in public was his commitment to and engagement in the fight against election fraud. With that aim, his office launched a transparent network portal on which citizens could file their complaints against extortion, violation and other election offenses. The office of the President officially submitted the filled reports on irregularities with Albanian law enforcement agencies, including the SPAK, national office of the prosecutor, national police, as well as the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe)/ODHIR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights).

The Constitutional Court of Albania, which handed down this important decision that constitutes a serious precedence, was incomplete. It had only seven out of nine members defined by the law (namely, two positions have still not been manned because of legal lacunas created by the judicial reform.) Furthermore, mandates of three out of the seven judges have expired.

In fact, even mandate of the President of the Constitutional Court Vitore Tusha expired five years ago. Pursuant to constitutional decisions, the mandate cannot continue endlessly only because the incumbent does not withdraw from the respective position. That is exactly why the Court did not accept exclusion of one of its members who was in a conflict of interest with the head of the state. 

Therefore, these most obvious and spicy aspects are sufficient to realize that one of the major questions of balance of forces had remained in the hands of the parliament and a rump Constitutional Court with dubious legitimacy. 

On 17 February 2022, the Constitutional Court of Albania ruled that President Meta had not violated the Constitution and acquitted him of the charges.

Drug business – “cannabization” of Albania

The village of Lazarat is the center of drug business in Albania. Edi Rama had launched a police operations aimed to destroy Lazaret. However, it later transpired that Edi Rama had actually taken over the business and instead of reforms, development and further democratization of the country initiated the process of “cannabization of Albania.” A significant part of arable land is under cannabis, and the drug-business is in the hands of a politico-criminal structure. It is assessed that the annual income of drug-business is in the area of 4.5 billion Euros and bigger than the budget of Albania. 

During the tenure of Prime Minister Edi Rama, Albania has become a refuge for criminals from Europe, Asia, North and South America. A mitigating circumstance for criminal structures is the visa-free regime that Albania has with EU member countries, which enables criminals to move and do business freely while making enormous profits from drug and human trafficking. A “black fund” has been created and is being used for corruptive activities which include foreign, that is international officials as well. 

“House of Freedom” vs. Drug-cartel

Partial local elections will be held in six municipalities. Specifically, Shkodrës, Durrësit, Dibrës, Vorës, Rrogozhinës and Lushnjes. The electoral roll includes more than 648 thousand voters. 

Shkodrës does not have a new mayor since 2019, after the winner at the elections, Valdrin Pjetri from the Socialist Party, was stripped of his mandate because of the Law on Decriminalization. Namely, in the past he hid from the public the fact that he had been criminally convicted. Therefore, the previous mayor is still performing the duties of the mayor. 

Vorës was left without a mayor after Agim Kajmaku was processed under the Law on Decriminalization. 

In the Rrogozhinës municipality, Mayor Haxhi Memolla passed away, while the Dibrës Mayor Dionis Imeraj resigned from his position after he decided to run at the elections as a representative of the Socialist Party. 

Durrësit was left without a Mayor in December 2019, after the resignation of Valbone Sakos. The last municipality was left without a Mayor in July 2021, when the Prime Minister removed Mayor Fatos Tush after he was arrested by SPAK for corruption. 

Partial local elections will be a confrontation between the opposition and the government. The opposition list “House of Freedom” (Shtëpia e Lirisë), which includes the veterans of Albanian political life Sali Berisha and Ilir Meta, will compete against Edi Rama’s regime. The elections are an opportunity for the opposition to take for the first time its positions in local communities after the boycott of the 2019 local elections.

The “fight” for Durrësit, where the opposition coalition nominated Ardian Muka as its candidate, is particularly important. Durrësit has particular important because it is a seaport through which a significant part of illegal drug trafficking is done. The importance of the Durrësit port has even increased after the change of government in Montenegro and the fight against the drug-business, due to what part of drug trafficking was redirected from the Bar port in Montenegro to the Durrësit port.

The revenues from drug trafficking are higher than the Albanian budget. The Socialist Party has managed Durrësit for 22 years already. Furthermore, Durrësit is also one of the most problematic cities with respect to town planning, because no investments are made in city infrastructure. The current situation is a result of poor governance by the Socialist Party and Vangjush Dakos, who has had one single goal – to maximize “concrete-based construction” take as many commissions as possible. 

Analysts believe that the partial local elections in Albania are a source of hope but at the same time an opportunity to embark on the final showdown with Edi Rama’s regime and the decriminalization of Albania. A new quality is the alliance between Sali Berisha and Ilir Meta, which can bring together the opposition political parties and the growing mass of discontented citizens in a fight against crime and corruption.

Partial local elections are a kind of a battle between the opposition coalition “House of Freedom” and the drug-cartel, which has been ruling Albania for years already. The elections have to be transparent, free and fair, with no bribing of voters and purchases of votes from “black funds” made of dirty money from the drug-business. 

Ljubljana/Tirana/Brussels/Washington, 4 March 2022            

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

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