The Albanian government has announced that even citizens with expired identification documents will be able to vote in the upcoming 15 May local elections amid fears of low voter turnout.
Albanians are set to vote for municipal councillors and mayors in 51 municipalities, with more than 24,000 candidates in the running. These elections will be key as the last vote in 2019 saw the opposition boycott over allegations of vote buying and voter intimidation involving the ruling Socialist Party.
This led to a sweeping victory across the country, leaving the central and regional governments under the almost total control of the ruling party.
With just over two weeks to go, Interior Minister Bledi Cuci said citizens would be able to present even expired IDs at polling booths in a bid to give them all the right to cast a ballot.
“We decided to postpone the deadline for identity cards that have expired or will expire on 14 May. It is a postponement that comes in consultation with the CEC [Central Electoral Commission], seeing the large number of means of identification that have expired or will expire by 14 May,” he told the media on Thursday.
International observers have made repeated calls for increased transparency and adherence to democratic standards.
ODIHR recommendations based on a report on the 2021 parliamentary elections pointed out, among other things, “the significant advantages that the governing party enjoyed from being in power, including through the control of local administrations and the waste of administrative resources.”
For the process to have integrity, “voters will have to be able to make real, well-informed choices between different candidates. Candidates must play on a level playing field, and voters must have the universal right to vote,” ODIHR representative Audrey Glover said.
“Voters must have the opportunity to vote freely, secretly, safely, and the vote is counted correctly.”
Turnout is not expected to be high, driven by political fatigue but also mass emigration. Some 700,000 Albanians have left the country in the last decade, bringing the total to 1.4 million since the end of communism in 1991. The current population stands at around 2.7 million, with a national census scheduled for the autumn.
Voters will be able to choose between the Socialist Party, the Democratic Party headed by Enkelejd Alibeaj, and a faction of the same party, led by former prime minister Sali Berisha, which, due to legal issues, has partnered with the Freedom Party, led by former president Ilir Meta, in a coalition.
The centre-right PD, a member of the European People’s Party (EPP), split into two groups in 2021 after the expulsion of Berisha by at-the-time chairman Lulzim Basha after the former was sanctioned by the US State Department and then the UK.
A tense standoff followed, with both Berisha and Basha trying to take leadership of the party, which led to a violent protest at the party headquarters on 8 January 2022.
Basha ultimately resigned after being badly defeated in local by-elections, and Berisha assumed the role of chairman, after which a court of first instance ruled that his takeover was legal, a decision that has now been overturned.
Tirana’s Court of Appeals overturned an earlier court decision that recognised Berisha as its legal leader, sending the case for reconsideration at a later date and causing uncertainty just two months before local elections.
But while Basha resigned publicly, it has come to light he did not submit an official resignation to the party registry, which is held in the Tirana District Court where all party details, including the name of the chairman, are recorded.
Meanwhile, Berisha’s faction of the party enjoys a marginal lead in terms of support from PD members who still consider him the legitimate head of the party.
Prime Minister Edi Rama is running his party’s campaign on the theme of them providing a future for the country, while Berisha and Meta represent a troubled past.
The opposition coalition is focusing on corruption, crime, and emigration, for which it says Rama and his policies are at fault. (Alice Taylor | Exit.al)
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