Albania votes in tense but peaceful local poll
Albanians voted Sunday in a tense but peaceful municipal election that has become the flashpoint of a democratic crisis, with the opposition boycotting the poll and refusing to recognise its results.
The Balkan state has been hit by political turmoil since February, when opposition politicians resigned from parliament to launch sometimes violent street protests against Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama
They accuse him of links to organised crime and manipulating elections, which he has repeatedly denied.
Earlier this month, Albania’s President Ilir Meta even tried to postpone the election, citing the ongoing unrest.
But Rama’s ruling Socialist Party rejected that bid in parliament and election officials last week refused to let an opposition pull out, effectively green-lighting the election.
On Sunday, groups of several dozen protesters gathered outside some polling stations in the capital, Tirana, shouting “Don’t vote!” and “Rama, go!”.
No major incidents were reported but turnout was low at just under 20 percent an hour before polls closed at 1700 GMT, according to election authorities.
In the run-up to the vote, some opposition supporters attacked polling stations in several parts of the country in a bid to destroy election materials. They set fire to two schools in the process.
But they were under heavy pressure from Western powers to remain peaceful on Sunday.
The Organization for Security and Co-operating in Europe (OSCE), whose observers are monitoring the poll, had warned that any attempts to obstruct voting would be “stains” on Albania’s international reputation.
After casting his ballot, Rama told reporters: “This day confirms that no one can play with the people … and who dares take sovereignty away from the people finds no other end but a failing and a shameful one.”
The political turbulence is brewing at a sensitive moment for Albania, which is waiting for EU member states to decide on its application to open accession talks.
The bloc was initially supposed to make a decision in June, but postponed it until October.
And the aftermath of the election is likely to be messy, with the opposition refusing to accept the results.