Albanians to vote on Sunday following a bitter campaign

Photo: AP PM Edi Rama during an interview with the AP, Tirana, 20 April 2021.

Albania is facing a parliamentary election on Sunday seen as vital for its ambitions to join the EU after an acrimonious campaign marred by a deadly gunfight between supporters of rival parties, AFP reported.

PM Edi Rama is seeking a third term but his socialists are facing a challenge from a dozen parties united behind the main opposition Democratic Party.

And politicians of all stripes face voter apathy in a country where the losers habitually accuse the winners of vote-rigging and campaigns are marked by entrenched personal rivalries.

The country of 2.8 million people is among the poorest in Europe and the coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse, with the vital tourism sector suffering a huge slump.

Albania is also two years into a political crisis, with some opposition MPs refusing to take their seats in parliament alleging that the last election in 2017 won outright by the socialists was rigged.

Opinion polls suggest Rama's socialists have a lead over their rivals, but the last few days "will be decisive" as swing voters make up their minds, political commentator Lutfi Dervishi said.

All sides claim to be pro-EU - Albania has been an official candidate country since 2014 - and promise to complete reforms requested by the bloc, including an overhaul of the judicial system.

Rama, an artist and former basketball player, is banking on a mass vaccination campaign to boost his chances, promising that 500,000 Albanians will be inoculated by the end of June. He is asking voters for more time to finish infrastructure projects hampered by the pandemic and to rebuild thousands of homes destroyed in a 2019 earthquake.

His opponents are focusing on a plan to revive the economy by supporting small businesses.

Bitter personal enmity between key figures prompted EU envoys to issue a joint statement calling for a campaign "without inflammatory rhetoric or hate speech".

However, Democrat party chief Lulzim Basha and Rama continued to trade barbs throughout the campaign. On the eve of the election, the rivalry between the two parties turned deadly when a row over alleged vote-buying descended into a gunfight in a city near the capital, leaving one Socialist supporter dead and four other people injured.

"April 25 will be the moment of truth for Albania's political parties," said Vincenzo Del Monaco, envoy in Albania for the OSCE, which will monitor the vote.


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