Dear fellow citizens, good evening!
This is one of those moments where, despite the words that are spoken, the uproar on TV screens or tempestuous web portals, beyond a political conflict that has been inflamed by individual partisan interests of the elected seeking to divide voters by inciting hatred, violence and chaos, we must try to see more clearly and reflect deeper, beginning with ourselves, with each of us, and then look around and in front of us, so that we comprehend and have the best possible understanding.
The parliamentary opposition has committed an unprecedented act in the history of the countries governed through elections, from the developed to less developed ones, from the Western democracies to hybrid regimes. This is an act unseen and unheard of, alas, not so inexplicable for us here in Albania, at least in my perspective that is where I will start from.
I have been twice elected as Prime Minister of Albania.
The first time, within a coalition of parties after eight years in opposition, and, the second, by a landslide majority Albanians gave to the party I lead, following elections held under a joint government with the opposition. I remember that at the time the opposition was given all the portfolios it requested, including the Ministry of Interior and some state agencies that it claimed could influence elections, conceding in addition the CEC chair and everything else that was demanded.
We only had one goal: to prevent the losing party from contesting the result of elections and trash Albania in foreign language.
That was the fundamental accord underpinning the signatory of the last-minute agreement that I believe you all remember very well.
Elections were not contested at first. The blame was placed on the voters, who crushed in a defeat of one million slaps those who are today the self-professed angry people. They fell short of reflecting on the reasons that led to their first failure, which is why they were met with an even bigger loss the second time, where elections again were not disputed, but peace only lasted as long as a summer night’s dream, with autumn finding them dancing to the same old tune of contesting elections and smearing Albania that, currently, has hit a new high.
Today, Albania is certainly faced with many issues and problems. Given that I said I will start with myself, I am not one fallen from the sky, nor am I immune to mistakes or criticism.
Quite the contrary, I have made mistakes, but I have also known when to step back and apologize, more than once.
Likewise, my reactions to those who have stormed at me, with no regard for me as a human being, have not been memorable in more than in one occasion and I am not proud of it. On the other hand, however, I have strived to listen to and respect all those tens of thousands and perhaps even more people who have contacted me daily – hundreds of them from seven in the morning until two or three of the next morning – and every community coming with an issue or a protesting group of interest.
More than once, I have reconsidered and stepped back when realizing that those who complained and protested were in the right, as opposed to myself or the Government. On the other hand, I have done my best to always answer to anyone who has contacted me over their 1001 kinds of hassles and problems and have also taken time to reply to people writing to me in the social networks.
That is no entertainment for me or an urge to kill time, as that is what I miss the most, but it is part and parcel of my duty, part of the effort to involve the common people and get engaged with them as one of them, even when my replies in the social media are misread as arrogant, or, even worse, as mockery. Neither the former, nor the latter is the case!
I have been facing incessant attacks, day and night, going even as far as my family and relatives, not only from the foul mouths of the official opposition, but from all kinds of characters and people who appear on one TV channel after the other, or write from one portal to the other.
I am irredeemably indebted to my children, my wife, my mother, who have to put up with the heavy and utterly undeserved burden of filth and distress, but also to other relatives and friends, while I can hardly remember the last time, I met them. I have accepted this as the steep price to pay for the exceptional privilege I have been given by the majority of the common citizens of this country, who have elected me at the helm of the affairs of my country and of everyone and everything I truly want to serve with all my heart and soul in this place called Albania.
Regardless of it all, I have never considered, let alone moved even the little finger of power against those who have violently unleashed at me, with words or otherwise, slinging dirt and painting me as a criminal, or crime accessory, as a drug addict or trafficker, as a thief, as a man denying my own child, or the bearer of one thousand and one evils that I have never even fathomed, let alone commit.
I have hit back with words, indeed. At times I may have even lost the sense of moderation in my reactions, but you will never find me anywhere in the archives calling Sali a criminal with blood in his hands, or Lulzim a pathological plunderer, or me telling Ilir he is a boulevard scoundrel, or Monika that she is a thieve with boots or even calling my disgraced namesake in the parliament a classical idiot…
Equally so, I dare you to find any audio or video recording in the memory of our public life where I point a mud-charged muzzle at any slandering opinion-maker or ignorant journalist. You will find sarcasm and irony directed to their public persona, but never any personal attacks against them, either verbal or of another kind, let alone me blackmailing or obstructing any media owner from doing their job, regardless of the tons of daily dirt hurled at me.
I don’t know whether it is very prime-ministerial of me to use such sarcasm and irony with opponents, opinion-makers, journalists or even common citizens, who at times are provocative in my social media communications in the social media. What I know, though, is that it is too late for a man like me to be everyone’s good guy, and still too early to behave like the wise old man with everyone. Yet again, that is a promise I never made to those who elected me, who while doing so were aware of my habits or of the sport shoes worn with a suit.
This, however, is not the most important part. What’s most essential is not so much related to with my habits or style, but rather to my governance.
This might be not the time for me to enlist the numerous achievements we have made in every burnt field, minefield or half-deserted field we found only five and half years ago. I have this impression at times that many forget where we were, that the biggest public secret was theft as a national sport, from energy to water, from chalks at schools to aspirins in hospitals; drugs were like a political and government-sponsored activity, from the Republic of Disgrace in Lazarat to the silence served as a cover in every corner of Albania and the along the corridors of power; crime was the shadow that followed behind the political and public life, with murderers and rapists who were released with the consent of the Minister of Justice to escort in electoral campaigns the MPs of a party that now never misses an opportunity to mention drugs and crime, with a rate of ordinary murders twice as high than what we have today. Let’s not forget the political killings at the windows of the Prime Minister’s Office, that are utterly unthinkable today; no one could touch the strongmen of political tribunes and of the underworld, thanks to judges and prosecutors who not only were above everyone, but it no one could hardly fathom the day would come they would be taken to the court of the Reform in Justice.
This is most certainly the moment for me to say loud and clear, so that everybody hears:
The Albania I want, for which the majority of people gave me their trust and unrelenting support together with the Socialist Party, is not the one we have. If that were the case, I would no longer be doing this job.
However, the Albania we have today is not indeed the one of five and a half years ago. It does not even compare in any facts, figures, areas or part of territory to the Albania we used to have at the time, where those who are asking for my head today, held people entrapped in their bad governance.
The Albania I want and fight for every day with all my heart and soul is not the one where many families still are hardly able make both ends meet, without shedding tears over their poverty. However, they were much more numerous in the Albania we had. That is written not only in the country’s official statistics, but in the World Bank reports, as well.
Equally so, the unemployment was exceptionally higher. That as well is found in both the World Bank and European Commission reports.
There were many more who were not insured and could not get any medicine. You will find that written in the State budget that for some years now has made sure that 600 thousand uninsured people, who in the past could not even get an aspirin without paying, are reimbursed like everybody else.
There were so many of those who were not able to even buy the primary language book to their children.
Today, the language book and other textbooks are provided free of charge up to the fourth grade. We will make sure that, at the end of the mandate, such coverage extends up to the ninth grade.
I could go on for every area and every community or group of interest, from the small business which currently pays from zero to one third of the taxes they used to pay in the past, to the large business, which currently pays 15% of corporate income tax, as compared to 10% in the past.
This is not the time or place for me to dwell any longer on comparisons between the two governance eras and two incomparable ruling parties: ours that, for all its flaws and issues, is first and foremost working for the Albania we want and its common citizens, and theirs that was and remains the same party, which, at every given chance in the past, only produced bad governance with devastating consequences on the economy, on the society, on Albania. And now, without an opportunity at power, it only generates bad news from Albania.
The Albania that is reflected in the situation of many universities and almost all the dormitories is certainly not the place I want it to be.
But, now, the students only pay 50% of the tuition fee and those with an average score of 9 and 10, or those who are on economic aid have been extended a coverage of one hundred per cent by the Government, which is currently awarding a monthly scholarship of ALL 100 thousand. In the meantime, renovation of dormitories has started and will not stop until the last of it has been reconstructed.
Did the students accomplish this?
They certainly did with their protest that had us insert in the current agenda something that was not there yet.
That is a fact, but it also is a testimony of what the term “co-governance” really means to me and to us; it shows how large is the gap between the government of those who act as if they have just landed from Mars, and our Government, on the other hand, which has plenty to be criticized for, but is always listening to its people and does not only safeguard, but also welcomes the youth protest, responding to their best interest, while at the same time reflecting on self-improvement.
The Albania I want is not the one you find in the state offices, where people do not get a proper, adequate and timely response. However, there is no common citizen in this present Albania who is left behind the doors of an office and does not find by his side the Government, myself personally and my ministers, once they send a signal via the co-governance platform, shqiperiaqeduam.al.
Obviously, the co-governance platform is an emergency address for those who are harmed by the behaviour of an administration that is still a far cry from what I wish Albania to have. But where was this first-response address by the State in the past for the nobodies, those with no friends or kinship or in-laws to help them? Almost everyone who had an issue with the State had to pass through a party and give bribes, unless they happened to be the cousin or in-law of a political strongman or a notorious thug.
The Albania I want is not the one stuck at a crossroads between the past and the future; between the time of those who relinquished their parliamentary mandates and are followed not by the people, but by the shadow of their fear from the new justice, and the time where the new justice will clearly distinguish between allegation and crime, finally drawing the line between the politicians accused of being all the same and those who have used politics to even built a toilet for their cat and now speak to the crowds on top of their designers’ heals, as if they were the barefooted emissaries sent by God to save Albanians from the devil himself…
Today is unquestionably a bad day for the Albanian democracy.
This destructive choice to quit the mandates given by the people is highly detrimental to the productivity of our political life.
It is this country’s recurring fatality to be dealt blows by its own sons, whenever presented with a real opportunity to climb higher.
This is a blow that might result lethal for the opening of EU membership negotiations this year.
Equally so, the disgraceful images of Saturday making headlines around the world might produce important consequences on the next tourist season, namely, on the economy of employment for Albanians and the new investments in tourism, and beyond.
However, I am not standing here to point the finger at the opposition, who has blamed itself publicly in the eyes of the world.
Likewise, I can’t have peace when seeing that our opposition has turned into a real and serious concern for our strategic partners, the United States and the European Union.
It has never been my style to badmouth my political opponents in a foreign language and neither have I been comfortable with the vacuum they have created since time now in the country’s political life.
Practically (as everybody knows, even those who do not voice it in public) this opposition has long left Albania without a reliable political opponent to face the government.
However, I am aware and admit that a weak opposition whose vision is to flex the muscles at the majority, whose programme is to find how to sneak objects into the parliament to throw at the Government, and whose ideas revolve merely around endless insults and uses as its only arguments countless allegations does not motivate, energize or improve, but, on the contrary, it pulls you down in its own quagmire to make you like them.
We do not choose the opposition, though, but simply accept it unconditionally, as the expression of the will of the electoral minority. We accept it unconditionally and try to create the conditions in order for it to express itself as clearly as it can and contribute as much as it is possible.
Do you remember the three notorious laws that unleashed a fury in the Albania governed by these gentlemen who are now crying out that they are living in Venezuela? Strangely enough, however, the United States and the European Union have been supporting the Venezuelan opposition of last months, whereas here, they are against the very opposition of these last days.
One of those three laws was not a law, but rather a request we made to ensure that the opposition leader – I was not in the parliament at the time – were allotted equal speaking time in the parliamentary rules of procedures, after the Prime Minister had spoken, not every time the Prime Minister speaks. Not only were we faced with rejection, but for months in a row that request was labelled as anti-constitutional and an attempt to shut up the then-Prime Minister. Upon taking over in 2013, we made it happen; it was us who did it for them. As we speak, the opposition leader has spoken more than I have in the Parliament and the opposition itself has used more speaking time than the governing majority itself. What about the famous electronic voting and ballot counting that led to a tent erected in front of this building for months in the middle of the boulevard, considered as a non-negotiable condition to enter elections? Do you remember that?
For months we have given a free hand to the opposition to decide on the election reform and have fully agreed to every item of ODIHR recommendations on the reform, as all parties are recommended to do in the report of the European Council, to ensure the opening of negotiations. In the meantime, we have worked ourselves and on our own researching and making tests to introduce the electronic voting and counting as a pilot project in several local government units in June elections. What about them who are so concerned with transparent elections? They have not even taken the pains to listen, even to what they have demanded persistently themselves, holding Albania hostage for months, let alone consider sitting at the table.
Could we have done more to help the interaction process between the Government and opposition? I do not know, perhaps we could, but we have been and will always be ready to sit down and engage in a dialogue on everything that helps to strengthen the democracy and institutions in the country. However, in the array of issues that could be discussed and truly serve to boost the country’s democracy is not included the violent rhetoric, or violence against institutions, or an imposed alteration of political representation determined by the vote of people. Quite certainly that does not involve termination of a governing mandate after staging a political suicide in the middle of the parliamentary life.
Unfortunately, they know their defeat in local elections is inevitable, for they are aware they lack the majority among people. With all due respect to the municipal employees who closed shop for the citizens today, from Shkodra, to Kamza, down to Mallakastra, without forgetting Kavaja of course, where murky practices have found their way back, and fed the protest in front of the Parliament with people, the sovereign is not the one who takes to the streets, but the one who judges when elections come.
The 2017 elections were bought? Voice of America proved it and, therefore, arguments must be replaced with the rallies, and the sovereign with militants taking to the streets? Forgive me, but that is not only unacceptable to the logic of democracy and of the democratic world, which has already vehemently condemned this message, but it also hardly makes any sense to those common citizens of this country, who may want this government to be gone right away, but can never wish that the country of their children becomes a ungovernable territory, by introducing this new rule that is unheard of anywhere in the world and impossible to find in any books whereby when the opposition walks out the parliament, the majority must end its mandate and go to election with the opposition’s government of choice.
This the logic of losers, who know they cannot win and, even worse, have lost their minds out of despair, and such desperation – allow me to tell it as it is – is not only a result of the power that has slipped away and disappeared, but also of the new justice that is approaching. That cannot be stopped by any gimmicks, by any groups of MPs acting under the guise of angry people, by any ghost of past disorders and by any act of violence against the permanent democratic institutions.
As for the vote-buying, I cannot hide that when I see Monika calling on God to protect Albania from vote buyers, I surely think that the Omnipotent does not deal with elections, otherwise Monika would top the list of those bound to go to hell for the sin of vote-buying. On the other hand, when I see her opposition colleague who grabs the mic from the hands of this heaven-sent emissary and resumes singing the song of the tent to the winds, I am reminded of the same voice pledging every day of the campaign to rid democrats of Monika’s Ltd and telling them to take the money from her, but use the vote to gain their freedom and turn home. Alas, the money woman was the one to come home, whereas the slaves are no longer the people. Luli and Monika have become the people. The Voice of America is thrown into the mix, assuming that Albanians are so stupid that, at hearing the word “America”, they will stop listening to the voice from across the ocean, and only have ears for the voice of the opposition couple, clutching like a drowning man to a telephone line, where there is nothing said; not about any buying or selling, or evidence or even votes as such.
However, no one has denied that such phenomenon exists in Albania. I, myself, have not denied it. There has been a series of specific money-related cases identified in the last elections and reported to the prosecution. No one talks about what happened to these official reports. Even worse so, everyone saw how an envelope was given in exchange for a mandate in Lezha, during a quick electoral incursion of the LSI President, when going around Albania calling on people to take the arms. But, the official argument of the sister’s party was: “the envelope is a custom of that area”.
It does not even cross my mind to tell you I have fallen from the sky together with the lady sent from heaven to protect Albanians from the money in politics and I will never try and pretend that no one has ever breached the law anywhere in this respect, even on behalf of the Socialist Party. That is why I have been and remain committed to taking with the Socialist Party every legal action to step up the punishment for vote-buying, but we can only do this by working together, while those who claim to be so concerned with all these have failed to show up – even disappearing from today – let alone sit down to work. Those who tell me that the majority of the people in this country has been bought and the winner is decided by the sold votes are either considering this people to be stupid or are merely spilling out gibberish.
Opposition’s choice today was the worst it could make to stand up for its voters and for Albania, which needs a visionary and interactive opposition that creates synergy, is serious and offers an alternative. However, this is the responsibility of the current opposition leadership and there is little, if at all, that we can do to save them from the political suicide of giving up representation of their voters in the parliament. Voters will judge when their time to speak through their vote comes, be it in June this year, or June of 2021.
Our responsibility is to keep on the path our voters have mapped for us and serve with the utmost dedication all the Albanians, with no distinction, even more so under a situation where the democrats are no longer represented by anyone in the temple of democracy and the voice of people between two elections.
How we will approach and interact with democrats, the common, good and honest people of this country, is yet another issue that needs serious consideration further. At the same time, regardless of the self-exclusion from the parliamentary life, we will keep reaching out to the opposition to ensure cooperation and dialogue. That again is another topic that will be tackled in due time – rather sooner than later – because even though the parliamentary life of those who relinquished the mandates today is over, the political life goes on, just like the work of this ruling majority for Albania continues, without being oblivious to what has happened, but rather with the mindfulness such occurrence puts an even greater responsibility on us to lead the country with vision and maturity and serve humbly and wisely the common people of this country, with no distinction.
The difference from now on is that those who left will do whatever they can to divide as much as they can.
And those of us who are here will do our best to unite as much as we can.