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In Albania, a mayoral vote gone awry threatens EU membership bid

Opposition leaders have called for European mediation to resolve a disputed mayoral election in the capital Tirana that is deepening political divisions throughout Albania.

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Albania’s backsliding over the past two years has caused serious concerns for its NATO allies and the EU, but the international community is currently wary of stepping in directly to an internecine Balkan fracas. Even if the Venice Commission were to call the electoral shots, there is little sign that the defeated party would be willing to accept its ruling, given how high the stakes have risen.

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Mayoral challenge

Initial results from the May 8 election suggested that Rama had won a fourth term as mayor by a wafer-thin margin of 10 votes. However, complications swiftly emerged.

The Tirana vote had involved four separate elections, with the relevant ballots being placed in four different boxes. Some of the ballots were placed in the wrong boxes, and the CEC ordered an unprecedented count of those voting papers. After the miscast ballots were included, Basha emerged victorious by 81 votes. The PS appealed against the decision to the country’s Electoral College (EC) of senior judges, which upheld Basha’s victory.

Overall, the countrywide local polls were seen as a great success for the PS, which made gains countrywide, including winning several traditional PD bastions in the north.

However, the rulings of the CEC and EC have outraged the opposition, who have staged protests and launched a final appeal to the College, which is due to be heard on June 13. While the appeal is expected to fail again, the PS has been marshaling an array of legal arguments against the inclusion of miscast ballots, while firing off allegations of poll-rigging and political bias.

Prominent PS coordinator Elion Veliaj, who is close to Rama, accused the government of “robbery in broad daylight in the most stupid and blatant manner."

“The judges have been blackmailed,” says Mr. Veliaj. “In all previous elections, miscast ballots have been considered invalid.”

Veliaj echoed Rama’s call for international intervention, saying that the EU should cajole the government into taking the dispute to the Venice Commission.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule have noted “concern” about “the legal soundness of the decision of the CEC to count the so-called misplaced ballots," but called for Albanian politicians to put aside party interest in seeking a resolution.

The US, which sees Albania as a close ally, may also have a role to play. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman has expressed Washington concerns about the legal basis for including misplaced ballots in the count, and also floated the possibility of a Venice Commission ruling, but added that it would be Tirana’s responsibility to decide on this course of action.

"The international image of Albania is suffering quite a lot," says Mr. Cela. "The cancellation of a planned visit of the [European Commission President José Manuel Barroso] and Fule upon grounds that with this crisis there is no talk of integration is a clear signal – it’s bad news. The Albanian economy is suffering because foreign investors are concerned and because long term instability scares away tourism."


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