Albanians vote in calm local elections, despite opposition boycott and previous threats of violence

Counting in Albanian Local Elections in Kolonja
Counting in Albanian Local Elections in Kolonja

Tirana, Albania | 30 June 2019 (Tirana Echo) – Albanians have voted in unprecedented local elections, despite opposition boycott and earlier threats of violent clashes and civil conflict.

Of 61 mayoral races, 31 mayoral candidates from the ruling socialist party were unopposed, after PM Edi Rama decided to go ahead, rejecting an earlier decision by the country’s President Ilir Meta to cancel and later postpone elections, due to concerns of civil unrest.

The decision to postpone elections, has prompted the Socialists to start impeachment procedures in Parliament, arguing the President has violated the country’s constitution. Mr. Meta was once an ally of Mr. Rama when the two ran the country together from 2013-2017.

However, despite threats of violence and amid a low turnout of around 21%, Albanian voters went to the polls and election day was largely peaceful and calm, with an overwhelming majority of voters ignoring the poll or opting for the beach instead.

Since February, opposition Democratic Party and its smaller allies have relinquished their parliamentary seats en-block and have staged weekly protests demanding Edi Rama’s resignation and a technical government which would take Albania to early elections.

The democrats accusePM Rama of electoral fraud, corruption and ties to organized crime – which he denies.

However, the opposition has failed to mobilize popular support for its actions, with an increasing number of Albanians largely disillusioned with the current political class.

Only a handful of small opposition candidates are opposing Mr/ Rama’s socialists while many mayoral seats are uncontested, with the socialist party expected to take almost all 61 mayoral seats in the small Balkan country.

Albania has a long history of disputed elections, with every poll result since 1991 – being contested.

This time, however, the Albanian opposition took the unprecedented step of relinquishing their parliamentary mandates en bloc, and their decision appears to have backfired. They had hoped to derail the work of parliament and force the government to back down.

However, the opposite took place , with names from party lists taking up vacated seats in parliament. Both the United States and the European Union have condemned the boycott and have called on all parties to respect institutions.

Albania hopes to open membership talks with the EU later this year, after its member states decided earlier in June to postpone their accession talks decision, despite a positive recommendation by the European Commission earlier in May.

The outcome of local elections and the speed of erecting new justice institutions and a new anti-corruption prosecution structure, will determine the decision by Brussels to start negotiations.

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