Albanians go to the polls today in a local election seen as crucial to the country5;s bid for EU and NATO membership. The campaign in the capital has been fierce, with Prime Minister Sali Berisha calling for an end to what he calls “mafia power” in Tirana.
Thousands of local observers will monitor the vote along with more than 300 representatives from international organisations. The mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, head of the opposition socialists, hopes to win a third consecutive mandate. The poll initially scheduled for January was postponed amid allegations of corruption and threats of a boycott by the opposition.
Despite some economic progress, Albania remains one of Europe’s poorest countries – rampant corruption continues to deter foreign investment, and many have fled looking for work abroad. Analysts believe the vote will be a clear test of former president Berisha’s 18 months in power after his surprising comeback in 2005. The left, weakened by electoral defeat, hopes to regain lost ground.