Albanian president denounces ruling backing local polls

Tirana (AFP) –


Albania's president on Tuesday denounced as politicised a decision by the country's top election body to back holding local polls this weekend, over-ruling his decree scrapping the vote.

His comments were just the latest stage in a long-running political crisis in which opposition politicians have for months been calling for the prime minister's resignation in regular street protests.

The Electoral College on Monday rejected a bid by the small National Unity Party (PUK) to withdraw from the polls because of a decree issued by President Ilir Meta earlier this month cancelling the elections.

The move by the five-member college was seen as a green-light for holding the vote and the body said in a statement that it was a "final verdict that cannot be appealed".

But Meta described the Electoral College's ruling as a "procedural trick to politically justify the unlawful activity" of Prime Minister Edi Rama's Socialist Party.

In comments to journalists Tuesday, he insisted that their ruling did not affect the validity of his decree.

The decision "has been taken under the conditions of majority's pressure and political blackmail", he added.

Rama's Socialists, who have started a lengthy process to oust the president over his decree, welcomed the college's ruling as a victory.

But the opposition, which is holding weekly protests against Rama, insisted they would still honour the presidential decree and boycott the elections.

Sunday's elections "will not be allowed, accepted or recognised", opposition leader Lulzim Basha said.

When Meta issued his decree, he argued that the elections could not go ahead because of the political instability in the country.

Opposition politicians quit parliament in February and took to the streets for mass protests. They accuse the government of having manipulated the results of the June 2017 legislative election.

Meta's decree put him at loggerheads with Prime Minister Edi Rama, who has vowed to push ahead with the polls, deepening the country's political crisis.

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

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