Albanians are voting in parliamentary elections on Sunday amid the virus pandemic and a bitter rivalry between the two largest political parties.
Some 3.6 million eligible voters, including Albanians overseas, will elect 140 lawmakers among some 1,800 candidates from 12 political parties or coalitions and those running independently. No early or postal voting is allowed. People infected with COVID-19 cannot vote.
Albania, with a population of 2.8 million and a NATO member since 2009, is looking forward to launching full membership negotiations with the European Union later this year. Sunday’s vote is considered as a key milestone on that path.
Albania has seen a significant fall in daily coronavirus cases in the past week despite political rallies around the country. More than 400,000 people have received their jabs.
An overnight curfew has been enforced with restrictions on gatherings and mandatory mask-wearing.
Prime Minister Edi Rama of the governing Socialists who are seeking their third consecutive mandate, wants to turn Albania into a “champion” in tourism, energy, agriculture and digital projects.
Pre-election survey polls showed Rama’s left-wing Socialist Party likely to place first.
Lulzim Basha of the Democratic Party accuses the government of corruption and links to organized crime, and pledges lower taxes, higher salaries and more social financial support.
Confrontations between supporters of the two main parties culminated Wednesday in central Elbasan city, where a leading activist of the Socialist Party died. Police said the victim was shot, allegedly by a member of the opposition Democratic Party, during an argument.
Though officially impartial, President Ilir Meta has turned into a firebrand government opponent, accusing Rama of concentrating all legislative, administrative and judicial powers in his hands and running a “kleptocratic regime” that has bungled pandemic response and delayed the country’s EU integration.
Foreign observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Western embassies will closely watch Sunday’s polls.
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