The conservative prime minister who dominated post-communist politics in Albania has conceded election defeat, taking personal responsibility for the heavy loss to the rival Socialists after losing the support of fed-up voters. Sali Berisha, who had been seeking a third straight term as prime minister in Sunday’s general election, also announced to party supporters late on Wednesday he would step down as leader of his center-right Democratic Party. The 68-year-old’s party was beaten handily. With nearly all of the votes counted, Socialist Edi Rama was ahead with 53 percent, compared to just 36 percent for the Democrats.
Albanian authorities have started counting votes for the country’s general election, marred by gunfire at a polling station on Sunday which left one dead and two others wounded, APA reports quoting Xinhua. According to the latest data from the Central Election Commission, 226 ballot boxes out 1,422 in total in the region of Tirana have been counted, while similar progress was underway across the country. Preliminary results were expected later on Monday, whereas the official results are not expected to be announced until Tuesday. The Democratic Party has called on all political parties to proceed with calm and not to block the counting process.
One man was killed and three people were wounded in an apparently politically motivated shooting in Albania on Sunday during a crucial vote that could determine whether one of Europe’s poorest countries has a chance of joining the EU. The shootout in the northern town of Lac “might be related to the vote,” police spokeswoman Alma Katragjini told AFP without elaborating. The dead man was a 53-year old leftist opposition activist, said a source close to the Socialist-led coalition of former Tirana mayor Edi Rama, but this could not be independently confirmed. The source also said that one of the wounded was a candidate from the ruling Democratic party of conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who is seeking his third mandate to lead Albania after eight years in power.
Deep in the Balkans, two of the West’s leading political operatives — John Podesta, architect of Bill Clinton’s two successful campaigns for the White House, and former British prime minister Tony Blair — are going head to head in one of the strangest and most deeply fraught election campaigns in years. At stake here for both sets of lobbyists is not only the promise of millions in consulting fees and ongoing, profitable lobbying contracts, but bragging rights as well — to having stage-managed a winning campaign involving 66 political parties bundled in at least three coalitions, and deep hatreds in all camps. So both sides — center-left Prime Minister Sali Berisha going for his third four-year term, challenged by the socialist Edi Rama — have managed to transform this electoral contest into a curious mélange of non-stop campaign rallies, caravans with blaring loudspeakers, a series of televised debates with both sides shouting at each other, and wall-to-wall television coverage that would not be out of place in Chicago or Houston. On Sunday, voters will decide.
The people of Albania are to vote on Sunday (23 June) in an election seen as an important test of the country’s ambitions to join the European Union. The vote will come four days before an EU summit at which national leaders are expected to give the go-ahead for Serbia and Kosovo to advance to the next stages of their attempts to join the EU. Those votes of confidence will contrast with the slow progress that Albania has made since it applied for membership in 2009. At the start of the election campaign, the European Commission criticised the Albanian government for planning to call a referendum to push through reforms demanded by the EU.
Fears rose Saturday of yet another disputed election in Albania after the commission tasked with certifying the vote remained defunct a day before the Balkan country goes to the polls. Since the fall of communism two decades ago, elections in Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries, have been disputed or marred by violence and allegations of irregularities. Tirana desperately needs to prove to its Western partners that it is able to hold fair polls that meet international standards if it is to have a shot at joining the EU. But on the eve of the polls, the Central Electoral Commission remained inoperational.
Albania’s general election on June 23 will be heavily scrutinised to determine if it’s free and fair. So far, the signs aren’t good. The latest hint that the EU is becoming increasingly worried came from the European watchdog charged with monitoring the election, no less. Ahead of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) setting up its mission in Albania on May 15, its chief Lamberto Zannier said his team were watching with concern the harsh rhetoric of the political debate. “We are expecting a very competitive electoral process in a challenging climate,” Zannier told reporters on May 2. Zannier cited in particular the growing spectre of extreme nationalism, the rise of which could have repercussions for the stability of the entire region. “We hope that there will not be excessive nationalism that could create elements of instability in the region,” he said. “The OSCE has invested so much in Albania”. Albanian nationalism is a new wildcard to the country’s elections, which previously were marred by the more typical unsavoury aspects such as intimidation, violence, vote-rigging and electoral fraud.
Albania’s parliament sacked an election official on Monday despite warnings from the country’s international partners that the move could damage domestic and overseas confidence in June parliamentary elections. The fresh political row came after Prime Minister Sali Berisha saw his main coalition ally jump ship to join the opposition ahead of the June 23 elections, but its representative in the seven-member Central Election Commission (CEC) stay put.