Albanians vote in crucial test for EU membership hopes

The parliamentary election pits Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama against the leader of the centre-right Democratic Party Lulzim Basha. On the manifesto are European Union accession and organised crime.

Photo by: (AFP)
Photo by: (AFP)

Albania's unemployment rate affecting nearly one in three young people has spurred the highest emigration levels in the world.

Albania began voting in a parliamentary election on Sunday with Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama seeking to strengthen his position and lead the Balkan country into talks on European Union accession.

The 52-year-old is calling for a second term to complete sweeping reforms of Albania's judicial system that have been demanded by Brussels.

"One thing is certain: the cure to the cancer that took Albania hostage has already begun," the premier told a campaign rally this week.

Opinion polls showed the Socialists slightly ahead of their rivals from the centre-right Democratic Party, whose leader Lulzim Basha is an ardent admirer of US President Donald Trump.

Many voters came early to cast their ballots on a hot summer's day in the capital Tirana after polling booths opened at 07:00am (0500 GMT).

"A New Republic"

The 43-year-old has accused Rama of links to organised crime and turning the country into a "drugstore", referring to Albania's lucrative but illicit cannabis trade. The premier rejects the accusations.

Basha pledges to create a "New Republic", with "a programme focused on the economy and the future of citizens, tax cuts, internships for young people, subsidies for farmers," he explained.

Turning over a new leaf

Since communism collapsed in the early 1990s, Albanian elections have been marred by fraud, violence, disputed results and bitter rivalries bordering on hatred.

After a 2009 election, the Rama-led Socialist opposition cried fraud and urged supporters onto the streets for months of protests. Three people were shot dead at demonstrations in 2011.

This time "there is an agreement between the political parties... to have a calmer election campaign than we have seen previously," said analyst Ardian Civici.

He believes a possible outcome is a "grand coalition" between the two main forces in the 140-seat parliament, pointing out that the overriding aim of both sides is to open EU accession talks.

Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe and its unemployment rate affecting nearly one in three young people has spurred the highest emigration levels in the world.

TRTWorld and agencies