Violence has once again tarnished the already turbulent pre-election atmosphere in Albania after a shooting outside the capital left one person dead and four injured on Wednesday.
According to a police statement, an officer was among those injured in the incident in the city of Elbasan, 35 kilometers south of the capital Tirana.
Several people have been arrested, including the alleged assailant. Police did not provide further details.
The incident came hours after the Albanian president intervened dramatically in pre-election debates, accusing the incumbent government of leading a “kleptocratic regime” and inciting violence against members of the opposition.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Ilir Meta said he would resign if Prime Minister Edi Rama’s ruling Socialist Party wins Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
The SP has maintained control of power since 2013 and leads the main conservative opposition in opinion polls. Speaking on Wednesday, Mera also accused the government of running an “ugly copy” of the country’s former communist dictatorship, adding that it had spoiled its response to the pandemic.
Election season in Albania marked by violence and acrimony
Prime Minister Edi Rama and leader of the ruling Socialist Party called for calm and patience on Wednesday, adding that Sunday’s elections would unite Albanians and punish those who wanted to turn him into “a snake around our legs.”
The upcoming elections are seen as key to convincing the European Union to agree to negotiations to admit the country as a member.
The country’s election season was marked by antagonism from the start, with an exchange of incendiary rhetoric between politicians of all stripes and candidates interrupted at public events.
The SP faces a key challenge from the Democratic Party, which signed a coalition agreement with the smaller Socialist Movement for Integration and 13 smaller parties in March, pledging to “put Albania and Albanians first.”
In early February, supporters of the two main opposing political parties had clashed in Elbasan. It came days after a DP activist was injured in the western city of Kavaja, an incident for which the DP blames the ruling Socialist Party.
Wednesday’s fatal incident sparked another war of words between the competing parties. Taulant Balla, head of the socialist parliamentary group, accused the Democratic Party of sending “paramilitary groups, armed men from other cities” to scare people in Elbasan.
Gazmend Bardhi of the Democratic Party claimed that a SP group car was distributing money to voters.
The US Embassy has called on the country’s top political leaders to “act with restraint” and “clearly reject violence” before the elections.
The president enters the debate hours before firing
In an interview with the Associated Press earlier on Wednesday, President Ilir Meta said he would resign if the SP wins a third term and accused Prime Minister Rama of “inciting violence” against the opposition.
“The Albanians will refuse [Rama] in the form of a referendum ”, said Meta,“ because this is the ugliest offshoot of the communist past and of the kleptocratic regime of recent years ”.
He accused the government of having “taken all the powers and sovereignty of the people of Albania and … eliminated all accountability,” adding: “With your vote of April 25, the Albanian people will take sovereignty back into their hands. “.
Meta’s office is largely ceremonial, with some powers over matters related to the judiciary and the armed forces. His role is also generally understood as apolitical and the president should be a symbol of the unity of the country. But he has often clashed with the Rama government in the past.
Meta began his political career with the Socialist Party, but then left it to form the LSI. He left his leadership to his wife upon being elected president in 2017.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism