This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al
By Roland Qafoku
On the 107th anniversary of the foundation of the Albanian state, the country seems to have the same problems that it had 10 or 15 years ago. A weak economy, widespread unemployment and a large number of people leaving the country, are some of the big issues that the country is facing today. All of these issues have killed hope for many people, making them lose faith on all political forces. It looks like we’re revolving around a hub again and again. The year to come presents the same challenges, but six of them seem to be the most important ones. The student’s protest, the protests of the residents of Astir, the nomination of the new ministers, the election of the new Attorney General, the creation of SPAK and the Bureau of Investigation, the June 30 local government elections and the EU’s decision to open accession talks are expected to be the 6 most important challenges of 2019.
- STUDENTS’ PROTEST
Yesterday, students resumed the protest that they had interrupted in December. They continued to insist on their 8 demands and did not agree with the fulfilment of only a part of them. In the final days of 2018, PM Edi Rama announced a number of decisions which resulted in a reduction of tuition fees. However, it looks like the biggest battle for students is the abrogation of the law on higher education, for which the PM has said that he will not change. This is expected to lead to a real clash between the sides. Nobody can make any predictions now, but this situation continues to keep universities shut down for more than a month.
- THE PROTEST OF THE RESIDENTS OF ASTIR
The protest of the residents of Astir has entered its 65th day. This protest started on November last year and it turns out to be one of the longest protest organized by a group of interest after the protest on the theatre in February last year. They are 1000 residents whose homes will be demolished by an infrastructural project that will be implemented there. This protest is expected to be a long challenge in 2019.
- THE NOMINATION OF THE NEW MINISTERS
President Ilir Meta issued the first signal of his clash with PM Edi Rama on Saturday when he refused to sign the discharge of the minister of Foreign Affairs, Ditmir Bushati. It looks like the new year has started with a challenge between the president and the prime minister regarding the cabinet reshuffle that was announced by the PM at the end of last year. On 28 December, PM Rama removed 7 ministers of his cabinet and replaced them with seven others. It is not yet known if this situation will resemble the case of the nomination of the minister of Interior, Sander Lleshaj, but the fact that the president hesitated to sign Bushati’s discharge, looks like a new clash between the two senior state officials.
- ATTORNEY GENERAL, SPAK AND BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
The continuation of the reform in justice continues to be a challenge for 2019. The election of the new Attorney General is expected to be the next step following the creation of the High Prosecutorial Board and High Judicial Board. However, the most important step is the creation of the Special Structure Against Corruption (SPAK) and National Bureau of Investigation (BKH). 2019 is expected to be really challenging for these two agencies. Are we going to see the arrest of those politicians and officials who have connections with criminal gangs? We will find out the answer to this in the next 12 months. At end of the day, what was the purpose of the reform in justice?
- LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS
The 8th local government elections after the fall of the communist regime will be held on June 30. They will be a real test for Albanian politics. Although these are local elections, they will show how people will be inclined to vote on a national level. It’s true that socialists have been governing on their own during the first two years of their second term in office, but it looks like they are unable to avoid being affected by the syndrome of the second term in office. Although the Prime Minister and leader of the SP has often declared that socialists are trying to win a third term in office, chances for this to happen are small. The government has been involved in a series of scandals, but it looks like the weak economy is the most important indicator. This is why the elections are very important on indicating who Albanians will vote in the general elections in two years time.
- THE OPENING OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE EU
In the month of June, Albania is expected to face another test. In fact, it’s the biggest test. The EU decided to postpone the decision in 2018 for another year and imposed a number of conditions to the government in order for the negotiations to be opened in June 2019. But, will the government deliver the conditions imposed by the EU? June is near and we still don’t know to what extent these conditions will be delivered, but this decision will be very important for the country.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy