Albania set for tense local election day

Edi Rama on the campaign trailImage copyright
Edi Rama Facebook

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PM Rama mocks the opposition during a campaign rally

Albania is set for an election like no other since emerging from half a century of communism in 1990.

Prime Minister Edi Rama has campaigned hard for Sunday’s local polls – even though his Socialist candidates face almost no opposition at the ballot box.

The main opposition is boycotting, but has urged militants to remain peaceful.

President Ilir Meta has issued a decree to postpone the poll, but Mr Rama has rejected it and has started moves to impeach the president, once an ally.

For months now, the opposition has held protests demanding the resignation of the prime minister and new general elections.

They accuse Mr Rama of previous electoral fraud and corruption – which he denies.

What is happening on Sunday?

The vote is going ahead, with critics calling it just that, not an election given the lack of competition.

Some local opposition mayors have used their powers to stop the use of public buildings – such as schools – as polling stations.

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The opposition says the government is corrupt

Their supporters have clashed with police – and in some cases set fire to ballot papers and boxes.

Lulzim Basha, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party, has been under international pressure to rein in militants. On the eve of the vote, he urged supporters to refrain from violence.

Mr Rama has been mercilessly mocking him, the president and the president’s wife who now leads one of the opposition parties.

What’s causing this confrontation?

Mr Rama – in power since 2013 – won the last parliamentary elections in 2017.

Early this year, the opposition alleged that the vote had been “bought”.

German newspaper Bild has published intercepted telephone conversations that the opposition says prove their charges. Mr Rama has sued in a German court.

Every poll result since the 1991 election – which took place a year after the fall of communism – has been disputed.

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Media captionPetrol bombs hurled at Albanian prime minister’s office earlier this year

This time, however, the Albanian opposition took the unprecedented step of relinquishing their parliamentary mandates en bloc.

Their tactic appears to have backfired. They had hoped to derail the work of parliament and force the government to back down.

Is there any hope of reconciliation?

Unlikely. Traditionally, election winners in Albania have adopted a “winner-takes-all approach” and the opposition has often seen street protests deliver what parliamentary discourse failed to.

Western diplomats have been busy interceding to enable Sunday’s vote to proceed without violence.

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The EU has criticised some of the violent tactics use by protesters over the past few months

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has deployed election observers. Their initial report underlines the challenges they face.

European Union leaders are assessing whether to start of membership negotiations for the Balkan nation, also a Nato ally.

A decision expected in October may hinge on the outcome of Sunday’s exercise.

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