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In Albania, a mayoral vote gone awry threatens EU membership bid

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EU membership

The local elections in May were meant to help break Albania’s political deadlock and mark a new stride forward in the country’s progress toward European Union membership, but have done quite the opposite.

Albania remains one of Europe’s poorest countries, still scarred by the legacy of eccentric Stalinist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, who led the country to a hermetic diplomatic and economic isolation. Transition since the fall of communism in 1991 has been exceptionally difficult, and the country came to the brink of civil war during unrest in 1997 during which 3,000 to 4,000 people died; divisions from that time and indeed decades before are to an extent reflected in the current political situation.

Mr. Berisha's party retained power in the hotly contested 2009 general election. The PS claimed the government’s tight victory had been fixed, despite international observers saying the vote was largely free and fair, and boycotted parliament for nine months in protest.

Venice Commission

Rama now wants to take the dispute over the mayoral vote to the Venice Commission, an international constitutional body established by the Council of Europe, for adjudication – a move that Berisha has rejected.

“If the legal battle does not yield an acceptable result, then they [the opposition] will turn again to what they call ‘popular resistance’,” says Alba Cela, senior researcher at the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS). “We definitely can expect protests, road blocks, and the like.”

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