Panic Mode, Rama Nominates Former Communist to Lead Albania to Elections

Whether Prime Minister’ Edi Rama’s dismissal of Saimir Tahiri as Minister of Interior Affairs this weekend was meant to satisfy foreign governments, LSI leader Ilir Meta, or the opposition, the nomination of Fatmir Xhafaj appears to be a desperate move to keep the Ministry of Interior Affairs, and therefore the police forces, under Rama’s control.

It is widely assumed that Tahiri had to leave owing to foreign pressure on Rama, but if he were looking for a fresh and trustworthy new face at the Ministry of Interior Affairs, who would give a signal to the international community, his coalition partner, and the opposition that he renouncing his links to crime and is serious about the judicial reform, he has just nominated the worst possible choice.

First of all, Fatmir Xhafaj has been a part of the communist nomenklatura, both as an investigator during the communist regime and as secretary of the Central Committee of the Youth Union of the PPSh. Being a former investigator, he should have been excluded from Parliament, and certainly from a post as Minister, based on the lustration law from 2008. This law, however, was never properly implemented and Xhafaj has never publicly apologized for his actions under the former regime.

Second, Fatmir Xhafaj’s brother, Agron Xhafaj, has been convicted for international cocaine trafficking between Venezuela and Italy, as a result of investigations of the DEA, the Venezualan prosecution, and the anti-mafia prosecution of Lecce, Italy. Fatmir Xhafaj has never publicly distanced himself from the crimes of his brother, which cast doubt on his ability to be a credible leader of the judicial reform process.

Contrary to previous ministers in Rama’s government, Fatmir Xhafaj will not give up his mandate as deputy of the PS. However, Xhafaj is not just a simple deputy, but at the same time chair of the permanent parliamentary committee for legal issues and the parliamentary ad-hoc committee for judicial reform.

Moreover, as chair of the judicial reform committee, Xhafaj recently defended the unconstitutional irregularities concerning the implementation of the judicial reform, which is currently stuck in limbo.

According to Regulations of Parliament, art. 20(1), a minister cannot be a member of a permanent committee, which means that he will have to resign from his post as chair of the committee for legal issues. However, there is no such rule for the members of ad-hoc committees, which means that in principle, Xhafaj can stay on as chair of the judicial reform committee even though he is at the same time Minister of Interior Affairs!

Such an unacceptable situation would show the hypocrisy of Rama’s claim that it is the opposition that is boycotting the vetting. If he indeed allows a former communist with links to organized crime to lead Albania into the elections, while managing the judicial reform on the side, it should be clear to all who is the greatest threat to law and justice in this country.