Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Albania opposition holds protest against delayed release of local election results
By Llazar Semini, The Associated Press TIRANA, Albania —
Opposition lawmakers furious at an election commission's decision ordering a recount of ballots in the race for the mayorship of the capital scuffled with riot police Wednesday during a protest over delayed local election results. Albania has been gripped by a political crisis for months, with the opposition alleging corruption among the governing Democrats and that they rigged national elections in 2009.
The crisis has led to sometimes violent demonstrations in the small Balkan country of 4.2 million, with four opposition supporters shot dead in clashes with police in January. Prime Minister Sali Berisha has repeatedly rejected opposition calls for his resignation. The latest spat is over May 8 local elections, with most of the tension centring around the vote for the mayor of the capital city, Tirana. An initial count showed incumbent Edi Rama, a three-time Tirana mayor who heads the opposition Socialist party, ahead with a razor-thin lead of just 10 votes.
He was running against Lulzim Basha, a former interior minister and member of the governing Democrat party. In a 4-3 vote Wednesday, the seven-member election commission ordered a recount of votes for the mayor on the grounds that some ballots had been cast into the wrong boxes. "There is no electoral system in this country, there could be no free and fair elections here," said Genc Gjoncaj, a Socialist party legal representative. Angered by the decision, more than a dozen opposition lawmakers, assisted by opposition party supporters, climbed over police who had surrounded the election commission building in an attempt to get inside. "We call on the people from this moment to come out and defend their vote, to overthrow such a fascist dictatorship," said Socialist lawmaker Fatmir Xhafaj.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Berisha called on Rama to ensure his supporters moved away from the commission building, warning that otherwise "there will be extraordinary grave consequences." On Tuesday, more than two dozen opposition supporters stormed into the building, stopping a commission meeting being held inside. In a joint statement Tuesday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States and European Union officials called for calm and urged all sides to exercise self-restraint.