Albania opposition rally threatens to disrupt local election

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s opposition parties said Monday they plan to hold a national protest in a western city that is holding local elections, a possible warning that they plan to disrupt voting.

The city of Kavaja is holding an election on May 7 because the former mayor’s mandate was canceled due to his criminal past. Lulzim Basha, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, said a rally would be held the same day to prevent “facade elections.”

The opposition doesn’t trust the left-wing government to hold the election in a fair manner. They think the current coalition government will manipulate the vote by buying ballots with drug money.

The Democratic Party said it would not register with the Central Election Commission and thus would be boycotting the elections in Kavaja, as well as the national parliamentary election vote scheduled for June 18, unless government agrees to create a caretaker cabinet to rule until then.

The opposition also is boycotting Parliament, preventing the start of judicial reforms that would allow Albania to launch membership talks with the European Union.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, who leads the main governing Socialist Party, said the Cabinet was open to sitting down for an “unconditional dialogue” with the opposition about its concerns.

A European Commission spokeswoman in Brussels said the opposition’s boycott of Parliament was regrettable, saying that “political debate should not take place outside but inside the parliament.”

“The cooperation of the government and the opposition and their dialogue are crucial for the country’s ambition to join the EU,” commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.

Brussels plans to closely follow the June 18 election as “it is very important that we see well-prepared, free and fair elections,” Kocijancic said.

Parliament is scheduled to convene Tuesday to elect the members of vetting bodies charged with evaluating the personal and professional backgrounds of some 800 judges and prosecutors.

The opposition won’t take part, blaming the Cabinet for changing the terms of a deal reached last year on judicial reforms aimed at rooting at bribery and ensuring that judges and prosecutors are independent from politics.

EU and U.S. experts were involved in drafting the reforms.