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Albanian anti-government protests

18 April 2019 Dijedon Imeri

On 13 April, the opposition staged another rally demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama and his ruling Socialist Party (Partia Socialiste: PS). A group of protesters threw stones and improvised smoke bombs at the police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons. Five police officers were reportedly injured, and several protesters apprehended.

Protests began in December 2018 as a student movement against rising tuition fees; however, they soon attracted a range of causes and have since been overtaken by the more established opposition, namely the Democratic Party (PD - Partia Demokratike) and the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI - Lëvizja Socialiste për Integrim). In February, opposition party MPs started boycotting parliament; in March, they announced plans to also boycott upcoming local elections on 30 June.

Significance

The opposition boycott is unlikely to impede the passage of legislation. If MPs boycott parliament, Albania's closed list system offers their seat to the individual next on the list. Eighteen out of a total 58 opposition seats held by PD and LSI have so far been filled due to poor party discipline. Moreover, the opposition's boycott of municipal elections will likely be welcomed by PS, granting it control over important centers such as Tirana, where most of the economic activity is concentrated.

The ongoing protests have nevertheless still put pressure on Prime Minister Edi Rama's government, and risk delaying the reopening of Albania's EU accession talks. Such an outcome, together with growing opposition pressure, will likely remove the focus and incentive from the implementation of judicial reforms, such as the depoliticization of judicial bodies and the procedure through which judges are appointed.

Should rogue PD and LSI members continue to undermine the party leadership's boycott, this would deprive the protest movement of its momentum and weaken it considerably. Conversely, any protester fatalities and high-profile incidents involving protesters breaking through police cordons or forcibly entering government buildings, would likely give the opposition momentum, and increase the probability of Rama being forced to resign.

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