Tense Albanian Local Elections Pass Without Major Incident

Albania has avoided clashes during municipal elections amid high tensions between the ruling and opposition parties and a tug-of-war between the prime minister and president.

However, turnout was said to be low, raising further questions about their legitimacy inside the Balkan country.

The main opposition parties boycotted the June 30 municipal elections, accusing the Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Edi Rama of previous electoral fraud and corruption.

Rama and his government have denied the allegations and insisted on holding the vote, even after President Ilir Meta said he was postponing it until October amid security concerns.

Opposition supporters have protested for weeks, calling for Rama's resignation and new general elections, and clashed with police in several incidents where they tried to disrupt election preparations.

Groups of protesters gathered at several polling stations in the capital, Tirana, to dissuade fellow citizens from voting. However, the much-feared clashes never materialized amid the low voter turnout.

Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj said voting proceeding calmly. The U.S. Embassy in Albania and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called on both sides to refrain from violence.

Some 3.5 million Albanians are eligible to elect mayors and town hall councils in 61 districts. The total registered voter list is larger than the country's population of 2.9 million because of the number of people from the Albanian diaspora in other countries.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and closed at 7 p.m.

Around 12 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 11 a.m., according to the election authorities. Preliminary results are expected on July 1.

The elections are seen as a test of the country's democratic development and will be closely observed by the European Union as the bloc looks to evaluate Albania's credentials for potential membership.

The OSCE sent observers to monitor the vote and will hold a news conference on July 1.

"Any attempt to derail the democratic process through violent action stalls the progress of Albania and stains the country's international reputation," it said in a statement prior to the vote.

Rama, in power since 2013, cast his ballot in the village of Surrel, where he told journalists, "This day confirms that no one can play with the people...and who dares take sovereignty from the people finds no other end but a failing and a shameful one."

He told RFE/RL on June 21 that Meta's decision to cancel voting was an "individual act" that was "absolutely a nonbinding decision" and unconstitutional.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, AFP, dpa, AP, and Reuters