By Besar Likmeta
Hundreds of Socialist Party supporters, including two dozens MPs, clashed with police in Tirana on Wednesday, accusing the ruling party of illegally overturning the election results in the capital.
The clashes erupted outside Albania’s Central Electoral Commission, CEC, when Socialist MPs tried to storm a CEC meeting where an act was passed that will potentially overturn the 10-vote lead of opposition leader Edi Rama in the race for the municipality of Tirana.
Preliminary data from counting stations of the May 8 local elections show that Socialist Party leader Rama has a 10 vote lead, out of 250,623 valid ballots cast, over his ruling Democratic Party rival Lulzim Basha.
However, the Democrats maintain that in certain polling stations, some ballots for the mayor’s race were cast in the ballot box for city council, and argue that those votes must be added to the final tally.
The seven-member Central Electoral Commission is dominated by members of the ruling party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
In a session on Wednesday that saw heated debates between the commission members, the CEC ordered the recount of the ballot boxes which have been flagged by Democratic Party commissioners at some of Tirana’s counting stations. This is the decision that prompted the clashes between Socialist supporters and police.
Socialists argue that the CEC act is extra-legal and say it changes the rules of the game after the counting of ballots for the mayor’s race ended last Saturday.
In a press conference on Tuesday, opposition leader Edi Rama accused Prime Minister Sali Berisha of threatening the country’s stability by trying to overturn the election results.
“The result of the election in Tirana is being overthrown through a totally illegal process,” Rama said. “My appeal for Sali [Berisha] is to stop and not impose a breach of the law, which sends the elections process out of control and threatens democracy in the country,” he added.
Berisha responded on Wednesday morning during a cabinet meeting, accusing Rama of trying to impose election results.
“Rama should not encircle independent institutions,” Berisha said. “He [Edi Rama] is trying to impose himself in order to make the preliminary result the final result,” Berisha added.
The May 8 local elections were seen as key test for Albania’s democratic credentials after a nearly two year long political crisis and the January 21 anti-government protests which left four protestors dead and dozens wounded.
However, after a calm election day, the ballot counting process has been slow and run into political pressure from parties, especially in the race for Tirana.
This article was made possible through the support of the National Endowment for Democracy.