By Besar Likmeta
Accusations are already flying as the curtain rises on the 30-day campaign – with Europe warning that failure to meet EU best practice on May 8 will harm Albania’s membership hopes.
The police are being used politically, the Central Electoral Commission has tampered with the electoral roll and the government is using citizens’ personal data illegally in the electoral campaign.
These are only some of the accusations launched by the Socialist opposition on Thursday, on the eve of the 30-day campaign before Albanians cast their ballots.
The government dismisses the accusations as slander on the part of an opposition that wants to contest the results before losing the election.
The May 8 vote is seen as a key test of Albania’s democratic credentials following a violent anti-government rally on January 21 that left four protestors dead and which has been the source of a heated dispute between the opposition and the ruling party.
The ruling Democrats and the opposition have blamed each other for the riots, adding to the high tension between Edi Rama’s Socialists and Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democrats.
Berisha’s Democrats and Rama’s Socialists have been locked in a power struggle since the last general election in June 2009. A report issued by a local coalition of NGOs that will monitor the May 8 elections painted a bleak picture of the political climate and of the parties’ unwillingness to compromise.
The report listed a number of breaches of the electoral code already committed by both opposition and ruling parties, before the electoral campaign had even started.
“In this very conflictive situation they [both parties] have breached the limits and the correct application of the electoral code,” the report said.
“During this period, where the campaign had already de facto started, we noticed a really tense climate, which apart from the unsolved political crisis and the January 21 events, is burdened by harsh rhetoric, all adding to a sense of conflict and insecurity,” the report added.
The report named at least four armed incidents involving candidates or local officials on the eve the campaign, which left two people wounded.
As the parties remain tangled in a web of accusations that could yet derail the electoral process, EU officials are warning Albania that failure to hold a ballot that meets international standards, will compromise its progress towards accession.
“Albania risks falling behind its other neighbours that are also EU hopefuls,” Stefan Fuele, the EU enlargement commissioner, warned during his last visit to Tirana.