Albanian parties break some virus rules to launch campaigns

International

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s opposition on Thursday defied virus restrictions to hold a rally in the capital of Tirana to launch its electoral campaign.

The governing left-wing Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama also held a rally in separate 10-person groups that did not always respect the country’s pandemic restrictions.

Some 3.6 million voters are eligible to vote in Albania’s April 25 general election to elect 140 lawmakers for the parliament now dominated by the Socialists.

The main center-right Democrats opposition, which has been boycotting parliament sessions for the past two years, held its rally at Mother Teresa square in central Tirana, where scores of cars and thousands of people gathered, many without wearing the mandatory face masks.

Few coronavirus restrictions were followed by the Socialists, who held their rally a kilometer (0.6 mile) away at Skanderbeg Square, besides keeping candidates in separate groups of 10.

Rama, who is seeking a third 4-year mandate, mentioned pandemic controls and their negative economic impact as the main challenges facing the country, together with completing housing for thousands of Albanians left homeless after the November 2019 earthquake.

“With the third mandate, we shall make irreversible all the reforms which are still not completed,” said Rama, referring to issues of justice, health, education, agriculture and the “digital revolution of services.”

The opposition said Rama has already had enough time in office.

“Today more than ever, Albania needs jobs, honor and fundamental change,” said the Democrats leader Lulzim Basha.

Holding an election in line with international democratic standards is a main requirement for the tiny Western Balkan country, which is eagerly seeking full membership in the 27-nation European Union. International observers will monitor the vote.

Post-communist Albania’s elections have always been strongly contested but were frequently marred by irregularities, including alleged vote-buying and the manipulation of ballot counts.

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