Albanian PM blames opposition for election unrest

The international community considers polls a test of Albania`s stability.

Updated: May 08, 2011, 08:51 AM IST

Tirana: Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha on Saturday played down pre-election violence and blamed the opposition for the tense atmosphere ahead of Sunday`s local polls.

"This electoral campaign was calmer (than before). There have been incidents but no deaths," he said in an interview on Saturday.

"I think that everything will be fine (on election day)."

After deadly political violence earlier in the year, the run-up to the polls has seen unrest. Official police figures say there have been over 60 incidents including three cases of car bombings and around a dozen fights between party militants.

Since the fall of communism in the early 1990s, polls in Albania have regularly been marred by violence and the results contested.

The international community considers the polls a test of the volatile Balkans` country`s stability. Over 5,000 local and international observers will monitor the elections.

Analysts fear that the results could still be hotly contested. The opposition Socialist Party of Tirana mayor Edi Rama treats the vote as a referendum on the legitimacy of the righ wing government.

Berisha, who has been at the centre of Albanian politics since the collapse of communism, blamed the opposition for driving up the stakes of the vote contributing to tensions.

"For me these are really local elections... we want to win but if we don`t it is not fatal," he said.

"Every country has its problems and here we have an opposition leader who wants power at any price... who does not respect the results of the vote."

Albania has been in political stalemate since Parliamentary Elections in June 2009, rejected by the opposition which accused the ruling right-wing Democratic Party of electoral fraud and demanded a recount of the vote.

The crisis reached its peak in January, when four people were killed and several were injured at an anti-government protest in Tirana. Seven of the elite Republican Guards were briefly detained in connection with the deaths but only one is still in custody as a probe into the incidents continues.

Rama for his part dismissed the entire government probe into the killings as "a farcical episode of an ongoing soap opera”.

He is running for his fourth term as mayor of Tirana which is one of the most keenly contested cities on Sunday. Rama has already announced that he would contest the results if they are not truthful and does not rule out calling new mass protests.

In Fushe-Kruga, a village some 17 kilometres (10 miles) north of Tirana, where the flags of the competing parties flutter in the wind, voters were weary of politicians.

Fatime, dressed in black with a black scarf, heading home from the market dismissed the political posturing.

"I just want every this goes well and it stays calm. It is never the Albanian people that win in the elections," the grandmother who would not give her last name, said.

Eighteen-year-old Azim Hasa, soaking up the sun with his friends on the town`s central square, said he would vote for the first time.

"I`ll vote for the (ruling) Democratic Party because my boss is a candidate for deputy mayor. Of course I have to vote for him, he gave me a job," he said.

Polling stations open at 7 am (0500 GMT) and close at 7 pm (1700 GMT). The first official comprehensive results not expected before the end of the month but partial results, especially for the mayoral races in the big cities could already be known late Sunday.

Bureau Report