Dispute heats up over Tirana mayoral race

18/05/2011

A decision to count misplaced ballots could unseat incumbent Edi Rama.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Tirana – 18/05/11

photo

Police stand in front of the Central Election Commission in Tirana on Wednesday (May 18th). [Ana Pekmezi/SETimes]

Tensions are high in Albania following a controversial decision Wednesday (May 18th) by the Central Election Commission (CEC) that could tip the balance in Tirana's mayoral race.

Police were deployed in front of the commission's headquarters, preventing opposition MPs from entering the building and pushing back supporters of incumbent Edi Rama, who also heads Albania's main opposition party, the Socialists (SP).

Current results show Rama ahead of his challenger, the Democratic Party's Lulzim Basha, by a mere ten votes. But the CEC has now decided to count ballots which voters inadvertently placed in the wrong boxes -- a move which could result in Basha taking the lead.

The CEC's decision is "not based in law", a spokesperson for the Socialists, Armela Imeraj, told SETimes on Wednesday.

Rama met with US Ambassador Alexander Arvizu the same day to discuss his concerns. At a party meeting later, the Socialists vowed a strong response.

Gramoz Ruci, a senior SP official, said it would lead a "popular revolt".

The decision was adopted by a simple majority, with chairman Arben Ristani and the three Democratic Party commissioners all voting in favour. The opposition representatives -- including deputy chairman Deshira Subashi -- were present but did not participate in the vote.

Under the electoral code, certain commission decisions require a qualified majority, meaning the opposition members must cast their votes as well. Several Commission decisions adopted by a simple majority have been turned down by the Electoral College.

Basha, the challenger, has confirmed that he asked the CEC to count the mayoral ballots which ended up in the boxes designated for other offices, including for seats on the municipal council or for the heads of Tirana's mini-municipalities.

"These votes are completely valid and nobody has the right to deny the will of the citizens that exercised their right to vote," he said.

Aldo Bumci, a Democratic Party MP who is in charge of media relations for Basha's campaign, struck a similar note in comments to SETimes.

"It is unheard of to have protests demanding that votes not be counted," he said."We have respected and we will respect every result. The counting of votes cannot be stopped with threats."

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Prime Minister Sali Berisha vowed on Wednesday that the votes found in the wrong boxes will be counted "with absolute transparency". He also accused Rama of prematurely declaring himself the winner when not all votes had been counted.

"If we accept the preliminary result as the final result, we will eliminate the system of free elections," Berisha said.

The three most influential ambassadors in Tirana – the OSCE's Eugen Wollfarth, US Ambassador Arvizu, and the EU delegation's Ettore Sequi -- issued a joint statement Tuesday urging "clarity regarding the election outcome".

"It is essential that the provisional official results be tabulated accurately by the CEC and announced expeditiously. In addition, it is highly important that the procedures for resolving competing claims be spelled out clearly and that they be fully consistent with Albanian legal provisions, including the Electoral Code. We expect both sides to exercise self-restraint and to fully respect the democratic process," the statement said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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