Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is today holding illegitimate local elections, in violation of the Presidential decree that cancelled and then rescheduled them for 13 October, over fears of civil unrest.
The President moved to cancel the elections after a series of prosecution wiretaps were published by German newspaper Bild, evidencing Socialist Party MPs, members, criminal gangs and the Prime Minister himself colluding to buy votes and intimidate voters during the 2016 local and 2017 general elections.
Rama’s Socialist Party is running uncontested and with only one candidate in 34 out of 61 municipalities including major cities such as Elbasan, Fier, Gjirokastra, Kruja, Shkodra and Kamza.This is the first time since communism that there has been only one candidate on the ballot sheet. Opposition party Mayors have said that they will not be removed from their positions by the outcome of an illegitimate vote.
By midday, the Central Election Commission claimed 12% of the electorate had voted. The opposition has contested these numbers.
Several hours into voting and a number of disturbing irregularities have been observed across the country.
In Tirana, video footage surfaced of a young woman being offered 2000 lek to vote. She was given voting instructions and told “you have to vote” by an unidentified man. In Fier, the Socialist Party was photographed distributing flour to citizens.
In Finiq, a video was published of the voting commissioner assisting voters in illegal activity. Under the electoral code, ‘family voting’ is illegal, yet they can clearly be seen doing so, assisted by the electoral official. Family voting is where family members enter the voting booth together to collude or direct voting intentions. Handwritten voter lists were also observed- again, highly irregular.
In addition to this, voters were being filmed in the ballot box by TV Rozafa, completely violating their right to privacy.
Most concerning of all is the fact that the Central Election Commission has started to announce electoral results, despite there being six hours of voting left and such action being a clear violation of the electoral code. The Commission also refreshed its website, erasing the “provisional” election results in Mirdite and “correcting” the results with a Socialist Party win.
In terms of disruptions, a few incidents have been reported. According to a police statement, a man was arrested in Durres after allegedly entering a voting centre with an AK47, threatening the voting committee and throwing out the voting materials. A 53-year old man has been arrested by the police.
In Tirana at the Partizani school voting centre, the chairman of the voting commission has been removed following protests from Opposition supporters.
Last night, state police were filmed violently assaulting a journalist who was attempting to cover the elections. Enver Doci can be heard shouting “I’m a journalist, I’m a journalist” as the police knock his phone from his hand and assault him.
Small protests have taken place around the country. In Tirana, citizens protestsed with anti-communist banners and songs from the time of Enver Hoxha, reappropriated for the current situation. Some dressed as Partizans in order to ridicule the current ‘socialist’ government.
OSCE/ODIHR mission director, Audrey Glover cancelled her pre-planned visit to the Vasil Shanto voting centre, due to a peaceful Opposition protest taking place outside. Luigi Soreca, the head of the EU Delegation visited a voting centre at Liceu Artistik in Tirana and refused to answer questions from journalists, including “would you vote under these circumstances in Italy?”
Taulant Balla, the leader of the Socialist Party in Parliament, said that “these elections will count like no other elections before and place once and for all people above parties (sic)”. This is despite the fact that there is no opposition and that they are one-party, illegitimate elections.
In Shkodra, an Opposition stronghold, 8 voting centres are reported as closed and in Pogradec, voting commissioners have abandoned voting centres. In the town of Lazarat, not a single vote has been cast as residents boycott the vote completely.