Albanians go to the polls on Sunday in a parliamentary election likely to be neck-and-neck between the ruling Socialists and the opposition as corruption weighs heavily on voters in one of Europe’s poorest nations.
The Socialist Party (PS) of Prime Minister Edi Rama is seeking a third term, while Lulzim Basha’s Democratic Party (PD) wants a return to power eight years after losing an election in the Adriatic nation of 2.8 million people.
With 3.6 million voters due to its large diaspora, Albania has a history of violence and fraud allegations during elections in the three decades since the end of communism.
On Wednesday, a PS supporter was killed and four people injured during a shootout in front of a PD office.
Voters are eager for an end to widespread corruption that has seen Albania rank 104th in Transparency International’s 180-nation list for 2020 and face U.S. accusations of being a major source for marijuana production and other drug shipments.
“I want to see the end of corruption in my university where professors get money from students to pass the exams,” said Migena Smaqi, 18, an engineering student who will vote for the first time on Sunday.
“Corruption has suffocated us from head to toes, and now there is no middle class, only very poor and ten percent very rich,” said another man, who plans to vote for the Democrats but declined to give his name.
Tirana was granted European Union candidate status in 2014, but there has been little progress due to enlargement fatigue around the bloc and lack of reforms within Albania.
The new government to be formed after the parliamentary election will have to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and rebuilding homes after a 2019 earthquake that kilted 51 people and damaged more than 11,400 residences.
Rama, a 56-year-old painter and former basketball player, has been in power for eight years. Basha, a 46-year-old lawyer and former mayor of Tirana, has held previous government posts and spent time living in the Netherlands.
Twelve political parties are taking part to elect the 140-seat parliament, with opinion polls showing the PS and PD running close to be the party with most votes.
The PD is heading an opposition coalition.
More than 5,000 polling centres will open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. (0900-2100 GMT) with first results expected two or three days after.