Albanians were voting this Sunday in legislative elections in which the socialist prime minister faces a determined opposition to remove him from power, an election considered important for his dreams of entering the European Union.
Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT and will close at 1700 GMT.
The final results of the vote will be known two days later, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) said.
The few polls during the campaign gave the Socialists an advantage but the outcome of the elections is uncertain, says analyst Lutfi Dervishi.
Prime Minister Edi Rama, who chairs the Socialist Party of Albania and presents himself as the captain in the face of the storm, aspires to a third term, against the center-right Democratic Party, allied to a dozen very varied parties.
Edi Rama called for a “free and honest vote.”
For his part, Albanian President Ilir Meta, founder of the Socialist Movement for Integration (MSI) and a staunch opponent of Rama, called at the time of voting for “a patriotic vote” to “re-found the republic.”
The international community scrutinizes these elections, a kind of test to analyze the proper functioning of the institutions after a campaign peppered with insults, accusations of corruption and violent incidents.
Since the end of communism in the poorest country in the Balkans in the early 1990s, the election results have always been questioned by the losers on allegations of fraud.
A situation that causes a certain satiety at a time when Albania, hit by a devastating earthquake at the end of 2019, is severely suffering the economic and health costs of the coronavirus pandemic that has caused almost 2,400 deaths.
“The current policy has hurt the country a lot,” Endi Gallo, a 21-year-old student, told AFP, lamenting a slow economy that pushes people, especially the most educated young people, to emigrate to Italy, Germany or the United States. .
“We are tired, young people study to find work, promises follow and then we get nothing,” adds Mariela Sherrja, 26, an expert in finance. “All we want is work to build a better future.”
– Europe under conditions-
Brussels has given the go-ahead to the start of negotiations for the country’s accession, although without a date, and all promise to make the necessary changes, starting with the reform of the judicial system and the fight against organized crime.
Edi Rama believes that the only political program of his adversaries is to defeat him but he promises to withdraw if he does not win a majority of the 140 seats in Parliament.
He calls for more time to “get Albania out of the tunnel definitively”, finish the infrastructure projects that have been paralyzed by the pandemic and continue to rebuild the thousands of homes devastated by the earthquake.
This 56-year-old painter is committed to a massive vaccination campaign so that by the end of May half a million Albanians are immunized and to reactivate the tourism industry.
“The third term is not for me, it is for Albania,” he assures.
The opposition promises for its part to reactivate the economy by supporting small businesses and accuses it of all the evils.
– “Gallows” –
Edi Rama “manipulated the results of the previous elections, took over the economy with a handful of people, controls all powers and hinders Albania’s European prospects,” says Lulzim Basha, 46, head of the Democrats. “You can’t give the man who failed for eight years another chance, the future is us.”
The outgoing prime minister denies this and accuses his opponents of being afraid of the ongoing judicial reform.
Albanian political life is often marked by verbal excesses and inflammatory rhetoric.
Despite calls from Western embassies for containment, the campaign was very tense and in recent days the death of a socialist militant has been mourned, in a shootout with supporters of Democrats who accused the rival camp of buying votes.
If the socialists manipulate the votes, “the gallows will be there,” warned President Ilir Meta, earning him a reprimand from Washington.
“For someone to say that citizens will take the gallows on April 25 is unacceptable,” US Ambassador to Tirana Yuri Kim said on Twitter. “Those who incite violence will be held responsible for their words and actions.”
bme-ev / roc / af-erl / rsr / zm