Why the Socialists Feign “Surprise” at Effects of Justice Reform

As opposition protests against state capture, corruption, and growing authoritarian tendencies grow all around the Western Balkans, in Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania, the Albanian government continues to push the narrative that the opposition protests in fact against the justice reform.

PS parliamentary group leader Taulant Balla claims in a recent interview for Al Jazeera: “This protest of the opposition is not against us, they do not have anything against us. They have everything against the justice reform and the new justice institutions.”

Looking at the international coverage of the protests by international outlets such as The Guardian and Al Jazeera, one gets the impression that this narrative indeed barely resonates.

This narrative receives little credence, because it has been the Socialist government of Prime Minister Edi Rama that has profited most from the absence of a Constitutional Court, which was unable, for example, to test the legality of Arta Marku’s nomination as “Temporary” General Prosecutor, the installation of the justice governance bodies without all the members being completely vetted, and the “Special Law” for the National Theater.

At the same time, the backlog at the High Court, which has reached nearly 30,000 cases, contains many property ownership cases against the current government, which has expropriated private property at an unprecedented scale.

Moreover, now that the opposition has resigned from Parliament, it is only the Socialist MPs that profit from the strengthened parliamentary immunity they recently adopted against the future investigations of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecution (SPAK).

One could argue that by resigning from Parliament, the opposition in fact expresses its faith in the new justice institutions by giving up their immunity.

Underlying the government’s argument lies an important claim: Namely that the scope of the disruption caused by the justice reform was a surprise. In other words, they did not expect that it would completely dislodge the Constitutional Court and the High Court and wreak havoc in the Prosecution Office.

This is an argument that no doubt resonates well with the EU bureaucrats who drafted and advised on much of the botched legislation that created this situation. It was International Monitoring Operation Director Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, who stated in 2017: “I am convinced that many judges and prosecutors will pass the vetting without difficulty, I don’t want to stigmatize the entire justice system, there are very good professionals. But at the same time we will be able to identify the “rotten apples.”

From the data provided from the vetting so far, it appears that in fact 50% of the judiciary apples were “rotten,” including all except one judge of the Constitutional Court. Also Taulant Balla expresses his surprise: “What was unexpected for us was that members of the Constitutional Court did not pass vetting process as they were found of [sic] not justifying their wealth.”

The Socialists’ surprise about the effects of the justice reform is both disingenuous and necessary. It is disingenuous, because nearly all magistrates were dismissed based on their asset declarations, which have been published yearly by the High Inspectorate of the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (ILDKPKI). There was, however, never any political will to give the ILDKPKI teeth to act upon their findings.

Once the justice reform package gave the ILDKPKI these teeth by making their reports a crucial part of the vetting process, it should have been very easy to verify that many magistrates would be dismissed based on their reporting alone – thus foreseeing the current chaos, and taking measures to mitigate it.

However, his surprise is also necessary: If Balla were not acting surprised, this would suggest that the Socialist Party knew in advance that the justice reform would severely obstruct the rule of law and implemented it precisely in order to profit from the ensuing legal vacuum. This now seems to be increasingly the case, as the government has weaponized its parliamentary majority and the absence of legal checks on their power to push through laws and policies that would otherwise have been halted.

It is also remarkable that the government has chosen Balla to make this point. Balla himself has been accused by the opposition of being involved in vote buying schemes by colluding with criminal groups, an accusation that no doubt should be taken up by SPAK, against which Balla has immunity…

– Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei