Albania's electoral authority greenlights local polls

Tirana (AFP) –


Albania's top election authority on Monday backed holding local polls this weekend, rejecting an effort by the president to cancel the vote amid a whirlwind of political turmoil.

Earlier this month President Ilir Meta issued a degree to scrap municipal elections on June 30, citing political unrest that has rocked the country since opposition politicians resigned in February and took to the streets for mass protests.

That move put Meta on a collision course with Prime Minister Edi Rama, who vowed to still push ahead with the polls.

On Monday, the Electoral College weighed in by rejecting a request from the small National Unity Party (PUK) to withdraw from the poll because of the presidential decree.

The five-member body affirmed the "dismissal of the lawsuit from PUK" in a "final verdict that cannot be appealed", according to a statement.

The decision upheld an earlier ruling from a lower body, the Central Electoral Commission, which had said the party could not withdraw from the vote, thereby affirming the poll's validity.

"The decision of the College, which is the highest judicial body in Albania on electoral matters, confirmed the decision... which found the Albanian President's decree to annul the 30 June (election) invalid," Denar Biba, deputy head of the Central Electoral Commission, told reporters Monday.

Rama's Socialist party, who have started a lengthy process to oust the president over his decree, welcomed the decision as a victory.

"The college has spoken, all parties must respect its decision," Taulant Balla, the leader of the Socialist MPs, told reporters.

Yet the opposition, which is boycotting the election holding weekly protests against Rama, brushed off the move, saying it would still honour the presidential decree.

The run-up to the vote has been held in a tense atmosphere, with opposition supporters clashing with police last week in efforts to destroy voting stations and materials.

The opposition accuses Rama of crime and corruption links, which he denies.