Edi Rama claims ‘great victory’ in Albanian elections
Edi Rama claimed a “fine” victory in the Albanian parliamentary elections, with preliminary results from Sunday’s poll showing his ruling Socialist Party (PS) was on track to retain its majority.
The PS was credited with 49% of the vote on Tuesday afternoon, with less than 200 of the country’s 5,199 polling stations yet to be reported. The opposition Democratic Party (PD) won 39% of the vote.
If confirmed, the results would give the PS 74 of the 140 seats in parliament, according to Europe Elects.
Rama, Albanian Prime Minister since 2013, claimed “the most beautiful victory”, congratulating himself on having won a third “historic” term.
He told thousands of his supporters gathered in central Tirana two days after the elections “thank you for trusting me to lead a third term”.
Previously, he had invited supporters to join him and his PS deputies “to embrace victory” at a rally in the capital on Tuesday afternoon.
The turnout was estimated at less than 48 percent – slightly higher than four years ago.
A first exit poll organized by the MRB, which is part of the London-based Kantar group, for Euronews Albania predicted left-wing socialists to win around 44% of the vote while the PD is expected to capture around 42%.
The poll predicted that the Socialist Movement for Integration, a small party, would win between 5.5 and 9.5% of the vote. He is on track to get 7% of the vote.
In total, the Socialist Party is expected to win 67 to 71 seats against 61 to 65 seats for the Democratic Party.
Millions of Albanians turned out to vote on Sunday amid the COVID-19 pandemic and following a bitter and divisive election campaign that saw violence and recriminations erupt between the country’s two main parties.
About 3.6 million eligible voters, including Albanians abroad, elected 140 lawmakers from among 1,841 candidates from 17 political parties or coalitions, as well as some who ran independently.
“The process was characterized by a calm situation, security and integrity,” said Ilirjan Celibashi, head of the Central Election Commission. He said the winner would be known “in 48 hours”.
It was hoped that the tenth parliamentary elections in the post-communist country would be free and fair after a series of past elections were marred by irregularities and contested results.
Rama and his main opponent, Lulzim Basha, traded blows in the media ahead of the vote as their supporters clashed in the streets, with a Socialist Party activist shot dead on Wednesday in an alleged clash with a Democratic Party supporter .
Basha accused the incumbent Socialist Party of vote rigging, corruption and links to organized crime. Its MPs left parliament in 2019 because of the allegations.
Rama hopes to secure a third term after his two previous victories in 2013 and 2009. He has pledged to promote tourism, agriculture and energy projects.
Sunday’s election has been described as an important milestone in Albania’s path to EU membership, which has held steady in recent years amid growing reluctance in Brussels to do so. enlargement. In 2019, President Emmanuel Macron blocked the start of Albania’s negotiations on joining the bloc.
Even as negotiations begin, significant obstacles remain on key issues such as corruption, organized crime and institutional reform. Speaking this week, Rama accused the EU of dragging its feet on Albania, while Basha accused Rama of failing to progress during his eight years in power.
A recent poll found that 97% of Albanians want the country to join the EU, making it one of the most pro-EU countries in the Western Balkans.
But even without the COVID-19 pandemic, Albania, a country of 2.8 million people, has gone through a few difficult years, after being hit by a devastating earthquake in 2019 that left thousands without. shelter and repeated waves of civil unrest.
Electronic voting hampered by problems
No advance or postal voting was allowed in the election and people infected with COVID-19 could not vote. Following the approval of reforms last year, a new electronic voter identification system and a pilot project to fully digitize the counting process were implemented on Sunday.
However, electronic identification machines did not work in 142 of the 5,199 polling stations across the country because no operator to operate them was found in these remote areas, according to Ilirjan Celibashi, head of the Commission. central electoral system.
An Albanian was also arrested after photographing the ballot, which is not allowed by law.
“ Gray voters ”
Critics say Albanians are also tired of the same old faces in politics, with Rama having been in government since 1998 and Basha since 2005. A recent Euronews Albania poll found that all of the top candidates – Rama, Basha and Monika Kryemadhi – had negative popularity ratings.
As a result, Alfonc Rakaj, an analyst, told Euronews ahead of the vote that there were a significant number of so-called “gray voters” who had yet to decide who to vote for – or even whether they would vote for the vote. all.
“[They are] disappointed with what is being offered to them, “he said.” They may be suspicious of all political parties and political leaders. The main political parties have struggled to gain their support, but if one is to trust the polls, none has succeeded in obtaining it fully. “
Rakaj added that he believed the election was “too close to be called”.
About 3.6 million Albanians, including the country’s large diaspora, have the right to vote. They will choose 140 candidates out of 1,800 in 12 political parties.
One of the parties competing this year is Vetëvendosje, a social democratic movement led by Albin Kurti, which won a landslide in the February elections in Kosovo.
Vetëvendosje fielded three candidates in the Albanian election while Kurti campaigned in Albania criticizing Rama and the other main candidates.
But while ethnic Kosovar Albanians voted in force to overthrow the country’s political elite earlier this year and bring Kurti to power, Vetëvendosje is unlikely to accomplish a similar feat in Albania, where the two main political parties are much more entrenched than in Kosovo.
Unrest escalates as politicians vote
Days after the fatal shooting in the town of Elbasan, south of Tirana, a car passed through the barriers in Tirana’s main Skanderberg square on voting day.
Sunday’s incident saw the driver crash through roadblocks to enter the plaza, where vehicles are not allowed, before members of the public intervene. A young man jumped out the window to stop the driver, who was then dragged out of the car by other citizens.
It is not yet clear whether the incident was politically motivated. The car came to rest near two tents where COVID-19 vaccines were being administered and a smaller tent belonging to the Syri Televizion channel, which was covering the vote.
Political leaders voted on Sunday morning and called on people to vote despite recent unrest. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti also voted.
President Ilir Meta was among the first to vote at the opening of his local polling station, telling those present: “For the Constitution, for the Republic, for democracy, for Albania in Europe”.
He declined to comment on the tensions, stressing that the nation belonged to “the same family living in the same country”.