WORLD / EUROPE
Albania goes to polls after tumultuous multi-party campaign
Published: Apr 25, 2021 06:38 PM
Albanians began voting in a parliamentary election on Sunday after a bitter campaign marked by fiery rhetoric and a gunfight between rival supporters that drew calls for calm from the United States and the European Union.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, who urged a "free and honest" vote early on Sunday, is seeking a third term and has promised to quit if his Socialists fail to win a majority.

He faces a challenge from a dozen parties united behind the main opposition Democrats, whose leader Lulzim Basha told his supporters that Rama had failed for eight years and should be given no more chances. 

All parties say they will deliver the reforms needed for the Balkan country to fulfill its dream of joining the EU, a year after the bloc agreed to open membership talks.

But despite the blasting pop music and ­flag-waving crowds at the final election rallies in Tirana, voters young and old have expressed frustration with the politics and economy of the country.

Opinion polls suggest Rama's socialists have a lead over their rivals, but commentators said a high number of undecided voters made predictions tricky.

President Ilir Meta - an arch-enemy of Rama - was among the first to vote moments after polls opened in Tirana at 5:00 GMT, pledging a "patriotic vote" to rebuild the foundations of the republic.

The country of 2.8 million people is among the poorest in Europe and the coronavirus pandemic has made matters worse, with the vital tourism sector suffering a huge slump.

Rama, an artist and former basketball player, is banking on a mass vaccination campaign to boost his popularity, promising that 500,000 Albanians will be inoculated by the end of May.
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