Albania’s ruling Socialist Party is being criticised for its attempts to make issuing arrest warrants for MPs facing criminal charges much harder.
Albania's ruling Socialist Party has been criticised over a proposal that would oblige the prosecution to submit incriminating evidence to parliament before an MP can be stripped of immunity and arrested.
Critics say the change would undermine the rule of law and endow parliament with powers that should rest with only with the courts.
Ruling party MPs who propose the change say parliamentary procedures in such cases should be clarified, and that prosecutors should provide "proof" alongside requests for arresting an MP.
"The proposed changes aim to significantly improve the regulations ... especially the clauses dealing with the limitations to parliamentary immunity," the note accompanying the proposal said.
Current regulations do not mention any need for the prosecution to provide "proof" in support of its case.
Lulzim Basha, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, called it an attempt to degrade the Special Prosecutor’s power and bring it down to the level of a non-governmental organization.
Prime Minister Edi Rama's party had "proposed a special law to protect the big fish," Basha said on Thursday. "This law proposes that prosecutors should send their proof not to the courts but to parliament, where the judge is Edi Rama," Basha added.
The Special Prosecutor Service is a new institution created under Albania's flagship justice reforms, approved in 2016, which the country is slowly implementing. This office, tasked with prosecuting high-level corruption and organized crime, is not yet fully opperational.
Defending his proposal, Taulant Balla, head of the Socialist Party parliamentary group, insisted that his aim was only to "regulate non-functioning holes in the parliamentary regulations".
Last October, the General Prosecutor, acting on a drug-smuggling investigation, sent to parliament the first-ever request to arrest an MP from the ruling party.
Saimir Tahiri is accused of drug smuggling.
However, Socialist MPs denied the request, claiming that prosecutors did not have proof, and that they had a "political agenda".
Previously there have been arrests of other MPs, as part of wider police busts.
A political debate has followed on how MPs should deal with such issues and what their competences are.
Afrim Krasqini, a political scientist from the Albanian Institute for Political Studies, a think tank in Tirana, said the current proposal reflects the "usual malaise” of politicians who spend their second mandate in power.
"In 2013, the Socialist Party promised to cancel all kinds of immunities and now it is proposing exactly the opposite", Krasniqi said. "Parliament is not a court and doesn't have the capacity to judge facts belonging to a penal file.”
Albanian MPs, judges and prosecutors had broad immunity from arrest and investigations up to 2012, when pressure from the international community to fight corruption obliged parliament to change the constitution and remove some of the protections.
Currently those with immunity can be investigated using special techniques like interception of communications and can be arrested if caught in the act. However, few MPs had been investigated up till now.