Albania held its municipal elections on June 30 despite President Ilir Meta’s decision to cancel the vote and a boycott by the main opposition parties. Fears of violent incidents on polling day were not realised.
The vote is seen as a key test of democracy and the capacity of the political elite in Albania to solve problems in a peaceful manner, at a time when the country expects to obtain a date from the EU to launch accession negotiations in October.
These are the second local elections in Albania following the administrative reforms in 2014 that lowered the number of municipalities to 61. The governing Socialist Party won the previous election in 2015.
“This day confirms that you cannot play with people and that sovereignty is not an empty word. It is important for the rights of citizens to be respected regardless of whether they vote or not,” Prime Minister Edi Rama was cited as saying by Albanian Daily News.
Rama, who voted with his wife Linda, raised eyebrows when he turned up to the polling station dressed unusually in long shorts and a suit jacket.
Some 12,000 police officers were deployed to maintain order during the elections. Opposition supporters did not cause any major incidents, and only sporadic gatherings were reported.
However, for the opposition, the lack of competition to the ruling Socialists means that elections are not legitimate.
According to the state election commission the turnout was 15.5% as of 15:00 local time, four hours before polls closed.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sent a team of around 280 observers to monitor the vote.
Two days earlier, OSCE leaders urged all stakeholders in Albania to ensure that the local elections are peaceful, following concerns of continuing political tensions.
The EU office in Tirana said on June 28 that “it is the direct responsibility of all political actors to make sure that the voting operations are not obstructed.”
The situation in Albania has been tense for months due to the opposition protests, often violent, aimed to bring down Rama’s government. Opposition leaders said they want Rama to stand down and for a new interim government to organise a fair and democratic vote.
The situation escalated after Meta cancelled the elections even though the governing Socialist Party went ahead with the vote as scheduled. The international community also supported the Albanian authorities to conduct the June 30 vote despite the boycott by the opposition.
On June 24, the country’s highest election body, the Electoral College, overruled Meta’s decree on cancelation the vote.
The first results of the local elections are expected on July 1.
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