Albanians vote after tense campaign

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The Albanians voted this Sunday to decide between the prime minister and an opposition as disparate as determined to bring him down, in a ballot deemed vital for the European dreams of the small Balkan country.

The international community is closely scrutinizing this election, which tests the proper functioning of fragile institutions after a campaign peppered with insults, accusations of corruption and violent incidents. Since the end of communism in the poor Balkan country in the early 1990s, election results have been systematically contested by losers and give rise to allegations of fraud.

A situation that is causing weariness at a time when Albania, already the victim of a devastating earthquake at the end of 2019, harshly blames the economic and health cost of the coronavirus pandemic which has killed nearly 2,400 people.

The bitterness of two students

“The current politics have hurt the country so much,” says Endi Gallo, a 21-year-old student, lamenting a sluggish economy that pushes people, especially the more educated young people, to seek salvation in mass emigration to Italy , in Germany or the United States. “We are tired, young people are studying to find work, promises follow and then we get nothing,” adds Mariela Sherrja, 26, financial expert. “The only thing we want is work to build a better future.”

Calling for a “free and honest” vote, Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama is seeking a third term against the center-right Democratic Party allied with ten parties from all sides.

About Edi Rama:
In Albania, the tarnished aura of the “renovator of Tirana”

Tensions between the Prime Minister and the President

In ambush, the MSI founded by President Ilir Meta, fierce opponent of Edi Rama whose party has often played the role of kingmaker. One of the first to vote at the opening of offices at 7 am (Switzerland), he called for a “patriotic vote” to “rebuild the Republic”.

Brussels has said yes to the launch of accession negotiations with Tirana but without setting a date and all promise to carry out the necessary changes, starting with the reform of the judicial system and the fight against organized crime.

The Prime Minister’s promises

Edi Rama accuses his opponents of having the desire to overthrow him as their only common ground, but promises to withdraw if he does not obtain the majority of the 140 seats in parliament. He is asking for time to “get Albania out of the tunnel for good”, finish the infrastructure projects hampered by the pandemic and continue to rebuild the thousands of homes destroyed by the earthquake.

This 56-year-old painter is betting on a mass vaccination campaign which should allow the immunization at the end of May of half a million Albanians and revive the tourist industry. “The third term is not for me, it’s for Albania,” he assures us.

Opposite, the opposition promises to revive the economy by supporting small businesses and accuses the outgoing Prime Minister of all evils. Edi Rama “manipulated the results of the previous elections, got hold of the economy with a handful of people, controls all powers and hinders Albania’s European prospects”, asserts Lulzim Basha, 46, boss of the Democrats . “You can’t give the man who failed for eight years another chance, the future is us.”

The person denies everything, and accuses his opponents of being afraid of the legal reform in progress. Albanian political life is often marked by verbal excess and inflammatory rhetoric.

Read also:
Coronavirus: in the Balkans, the pandemic is growing, concern is mounting

The campaign got tense

Despite calls for restraint from Western embassies, the campaign has grown in recent days, with the death of a socialist activist shot dead in a shootout with Democrats who accused the opposing camp of vote-buying.

If the vote is manipulated by the Socialists, the “pitchforks will be there,” warned President Meta, earning him a volley of green wood from Washington. “Anyone who says that citizens will take the ‘pitchforks’ is unacceptable,” US Ambassador to Tirana Yuri Kim said on Twitter. “Those who incite violence will be held accountable for their words and actions.”

If the rare polls give the advantage to the Socialists, the ballot remains uncertain and “the last days will be decisive for the voices of the undecided,” notes analyst Lutfi Dervishi.

Polling stations close at 7 p.m. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), party scores will be published within two days.