Albanians vote in elections after fierce political struggle

TIRANA, Albania (AP) – Albanians vote in parliamentary elections on Sunday amid the virus pandemic and bitter rivalry between the two biggest political parties.

Some 3.6 million eligible voters, including Albanians abroad, will elect 140 lawmakers from among some 1,800 candidates from 12 political parties or coalitions and those running independently. No advance or postal voting is allowed and people infected with COVID-19 cannot vote.

Following the approval of electoral reforms last year, a new electronic voter identification, a partial depoliticization of the electoral commission and a pilot project on the complete digitization of the voting and counting process are being implemented. The hope is that the 10th post-communist parliamentary election in Albania will be free and fair. To this day, the vote has always been marred by irregularities.

The preliminary turnout at 11 a.m. was 16.67%.

Albania, which has a population of 2.8 million and has been a member of NATO since 2009, looks forward to launching full membership negotiations with the European Union later this year. Sunday’s vote is seen as a key step on this path.

Prime Minister Edi Rama of the ruling Socialists, who are seeking their third consecutive term, wants to make Albania a “champion” of tourism, energy, agriculture and digital projects.

Pre-election polls showed that Rama’s left-wing Socialist Party was likely to come first.

Lulzim Basha of the Democratic Party accuses the government of corruption and links to organized crime, and promises lower taxes, higher wages and more social financial support.

Clashes between supporters of the two main parties culminated Wednesday in the center of the town of Elbasan, where a Socialist Party activist died. Police said the victim was shot dead, allegedly by a member of the opposition Democratic Party, during an argument.

Although officially impartial, President Ilir Meta has become an incendiary opponent of the government, accusing Rama of concentrating all legislative, administrative and judicial powers in his hands and of leading a “kleptocratic regime” that has spoiled the response to the pandemic and delayed the country’s integration into the EU.

Political leaders voted on Sunday morning and called on the people to vote. Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, also an Albanian citizen, also voted.

“For the Constitution, for the Republic, for democracy, for Albania in Europe,” declared President Ilir Meta, voting among the first at the opening of the polling station.

Dozens of foreign observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Western embassies are closely monitoring Sunday’s polls.

“We hope that every Albanian citizen will go and vote, without fear, without interference,” US Ambassador Yuri Kim said at a polling station in northern Shkodra. “It’s your day.”

Albania has seen a significant drop in daily coronavirus cases over the past week despite political rallies in the country. More than 400,000 people have been beaten.

A nighttime curfew has been imposed with restrictions on gatherings and the mandatory wearing of masks.


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