Alexander Arvizu, the US ambassador in Tirana, reiterated on Wednesday the American stance that the May 8 ballot is a key test of Albania’s democratic credentials.
“These local elections are very important for Albania’s future and we expect to see competition and a real political campaign,” Arvizu said. “The citizens have to listen to what politicians have to say and cast their ballot,” he added.
As the May 8 local elections approach, Albania’s ruling majority and Socialist opposition remain deeply divided, following the death of four opposition protestors during an anti-government rally on January 21.
The opposition has suggested that it might boycott the polls.
Arvizu’s statement came as he announced a $360,000 grant to train election monitors for the local polls and on the eve of the visit to Tirana of US Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg.
Steinberg will be accompanied during his visit by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Tom Countryman.
“In Albania, they will reinforce the importance of local elections to resolving Albania’s political impasse and reinforce the Prosecutor General’s role in investigating the events of January 21,” the state department said in a press release.
Albania has been facing renewed political crisis since the violent clashes between state security forces and protesters in Tirana.
The protest of January 21 turned into a riot when several hundred anti-government protesters attacked the police barricade set up to protect the prime minister’s office, using sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails.
Police responded with tear gas, water cannons and later with live ammunition fire, leaving four dead and dozens wounded.
Prosecutors are currently investigating the murders, the organisers of the protest and the violent demonstrators that attacked the police.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha claims that his government is the victim of a failed coup attempt, part of the January 21 protests, orchestrated by the Socialists, the president, the secret service, the general prosecutor and four journalists.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Edi Rama accuses Berisha of turning a peaceful protest into a bloodbath and attacking any institution that does not agree with his version of the facts.
The recent tension between Rama’s Socialists and the ruling majority of Prime Minister Berisha has aggravated an already poisoned political climate which has been in a troubled state since the disputed June 2009 parliamentary elections.