Edi Rama on way out? Boycott of Albanian opposition sees 21.6% voter turnout


After weeks of uncertainty about whether the municipal vote would go ahead, the socialist ruling government of Prime Minister Edi Rama went ahead with the elections even as the opposition and the president of the country boycotted or objected to the vote on legal grounds.

In the end, the turnout, according to the Central Electoral Commission, was at a historical low at 21.6 percent. In 2015, the last time local elections were held, the turnout stood at 45 percent.

Despite predictions to the contrary, the elections were mostly peaceful. The capital Tirana was calm with tourists groups meandering around the city while pensioners pedalled around on their bikes.

Many voters had booked their holidays early and decided to go to the beach instead of going to polling stations where some feared there might be violence, while others chose to stay at home.

One voter speaking to TRT World called the elections a “farce” adding: “I didn’t go and vote not because of the Democratic Party’s calls for a boycott but because they are just as bad as each other.”

This sentiment was widely shared by many people I spoke to and should give the Democratic Party pause for thought in how much it can press its advantage of a low turnout against incumbent Rama.

Conceivably both sides can claim a victory of sorts that could also pave the way for a negotiated solution out of this crisis.

The ruling Socialist Party can claim that the June 30 local elections went ahead despite the opposition boycott and while the process was not perfect the principle of elections being held and people making their voice heard through the ballot box is the only road to make a change.

The opposition can claim that they have damaged the ruling government’s legitimacy. The opposition’s boycott meant that in some districts there was only one candidate on the ballot.

With both sides claiming to have won something, it could provide both parties with an opportunity to have a face-saving political climbdown.

How did Albania get here?

The opposition Democratic Party, joined by President Ilir Meta and his former party the Movement for Socialist Integration, had said that they would boycott the vote.

The Democratic Party aimed to stop the vote through street mobilisations, which have sometimes turned violent, whereas Meta attempted to issue a presidential decree on June 8 annulling the local election.

The ruling Socialist Party, led by Rama, has been accused of rigging the 2017 general election and in recent weeks secret recordings that have emerged suggest there was such an organised effort to rig the 2017 election.

The opposition’s ability to mobilise has been tempered by widespread disillusionment with all political parties, including the opposition, which, when it was previously in power, was seen by people as no better than the current government.