Albania yesterday held a parliamentary election likely to be a neck-and-neck contest between the ruling Socialists and the opposition as corruption weighs heavily on voters in one of Europe’s poorest nations.
The Socialist Party (PS) of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was seeking a third term, while Lulzim Basha’s Democratic Party (PD) wanted a return to power eight years after losing an election.
Polls opened at 7am and were to close at 7pm.
“I want to see changes in all the sectors. I want Albania to move toward European Union,” said Edmond Katanxhaj, 64, who was among the first to vote at a polling station in Tirana.
Tirana was granted EU candidate status in 2014, but there has been little progress, due to enlargement fatigue around the bloc and lack of reforms within Albania.
With a population of 2.8 million, but 3.6 million voters due to its large diaspora, Albania has a history of violence and fraud allegations during elections in the three decades since the end of communism.
On Wednesday, a PS supporter was killed and four people injured during a shootout following a dispute between Socialist and Democrats supporters.
Voters are eager for an end to widespread corruption. Albania ranks 104th in Transparency International’s 180-nation list for last year and is accused by the US of being a major source for marijuana production and other drug shipments.
Orestia Nano, an artist, said her main motive to vote was to end corruption.
“When I entered the University of Arts there were people of my age who paid money to get into the school. There are people who have to pay money to get health treatments [in state hospitals],” she said. “It [corruption] is pretty bad in really high levels.”
Rama, a 56-year-old painter and former basketball player, has been in power for eight years. Basha, a 46-year-old lawyer and former mayor of Tirana, has held previous government posts and spent time living in the Netherlands.
The new government would have to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding homes after a 2019 earthquake that killed 51 people and damaged more than 11,400 residences.
Twelve political parties were taking part to elect the 140-seat parliament, with opinion polls showing the PS and PD running close to be the party with most votes. The PD was heading an opposition coalition.
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