Albania's President has announced that elections slated for this weekend will now take place in October, contradicting the country's Prime Minister and plunging the country deeper into political crisis.
The country had been scheduled to go to the polls this weekend, but several of the largest opposition parties announced they would boycott the vote, unhappy with recent judicial reforms.
President Ilir Meta said the elections could take place in October, but Prime Minister Edi Rama has insisted they will still go ahead on Sunday.
The country has been rocked by widespread protests since February, when several opposition parties announced they were pulling out of parliament.
Speaking to Euronews, Erion Veliaj, the Mayor of Tirana and a staunch ally of Prime Minister Edi Rama, said that Albania could not go back to the dark days when it was known as the North Korea of Europe.
“I think it would have more of an impact, if we do away with elections, if we decide the rule of law is something we can toy around with depending on political appetite. I think our decision to respect the Constitution, to respect the court, to respect the public to which we owe an explanation, to which we owe competition in an election date, I think is the best way to separate our European ambitions.”
“We’ve come from a time when this country didn’t have elections, we’ve come from a time when Albanian Tirana, this capital used to be the North Korea, the Pyongyang of Europe. We left that past, for a future where we compete every four years.”
“I know they [the opposition] are upset at these justice reforms, and rightly so, they appointed judges in the last thirty years who cannot explain why a Maserati, a Bugatti, a Lamborghini appears in front of the houses of judges who make less than a 1,000 salary.”
He warned that delaying this weekend’s election would void the government's mandate, and jeopardise the country's aspirations to join the European Union, adding that it wasn't up to the President or the Prime Minister to decide when elections should take place.
“I don’t think it’s in the hands of the Prime Minister at the moment, it’s a decision by the constitution to hold elections every four years. This is a democratic country; we cannot change the rules. Democracy is a participatory sport, so if the constitution says we have to hold elections every four years, if the electoral board says we need to have elections every four years – no president or other institution has the authority to say we should do them ever five, seven or nave year," he said.
"I think the European Union and the United States yesterday spoke very clearly that they support democracy in Albania. June 30th is the election date, and we need to have elections.
“I as a mayor cannot stand in office for more than four years, in no democracy can you ignore the rules of the games, so there is a mandate, it expires on June 30," he added.
“Other political parties, 44 political parties are participating, only a handful are not. I think their primary concern is the justice reform, which the United States and European Union are sponsoring in Albania which is doing away with corrupt judges, changing the way the justice system works, it can be an auction any more. It should be a completion of who is right, and who is just.”