TIRANA (AFP) ― Albania’s new President Bujar Nishani was sworn in Tuesday pledging to tackle stalled legal reforms and the ongoing political crisis which threatens the country’s EU integration.
“The justice system will be my priority. I have decided to fully engage in favor of the reform of the legal system which remains a key factor in Albania’s integration in the European Union,” Nishani told AFP in an interview given before the official inauguration ceremony.
Brussels has repeatedly criticized “shortcomings” of the Albanian legal system in terms of “independence, transparency and efficiency.” Opinion polls show that a majority of Albanians see the justice system as one of the most corrupt sectors in society.
“There are many allegations of corruption, certain judges and prosecutors are accused of lacking professional and moral integrity,” Nishani, a former justice and interior minister, told AFP.
While Albania, population 2.8 million, is a parliamentary democracy with institutional power vested in the prime minister, the president is the head of the legal system and commander of the armed forces. In his function he appoints judges and prosecutors but also, upon nomination by the prime minister, the head of the secret service.
“The president can directly contribute (to justice reform) while at the same time assuring public opinion and the international partners that we can reach the standards asked of us,” said Nishani, who was elected in June to the post with a simple majority in parliament, backed by the rightwing ruling coalition.
The opposition Socialists boycotted the vote and accused Prime Minister Sali Berisha of trying to strengthen his grip on the legal system and the secret service by pushing through Nishani, his former ally.
But the former justice minister, who left Berisha’s party after he was elected president, vowed Tuesday that he would be an impartial head of state.
“I will be completely independent of any influence from whatever political force,” he insisted.
Albania has been mired in political crisis for three years since the Socialists accused Berisha’s Democrats of electoral fraud after legislative polls in June 2009.
“Cooperation with the (ruling) majority and the opposition is very important to me,” Nishani promised.
“Despite the current divisions, Albanian entry into the EU which is supported by 90 percent of Albanians, should unite the political forces.”
He warned that EU integration would be a “process that will force us all to work very hard to deserve it.”
Tirana has applied for EU candidacy status but has already been turned down twice by Brussels, which stressed that the ongoing political crisis is impeding much needed reforms.
“I am optimistic that Albania will succeed in getting candidacy status this autumn,” Nishani told AFP.
Last week the Albanian parliament took a first small step in that direction when the ruling coalition and the opposition, after pressure from Brussels, adopted a new electoral law.
The international community hopes it will end the systematic challenging of results that have haunted nearly every Albanian election since the fall of communism in the 1990s.