Albania gets second shot at democracy head over 2 lines here please

New poll offers chance to restore credibility. Andrew Gumbel reports

International observers will be keeping their fingers crossed that Albania can claw its way back to a semblance of democratic normality on Sunday, as the country is called out to vote for the first time since last May's farcical general elections, in which the ruling Democratic Party crushed the opposition through a mixture of intimidation and cheating.

Under heavy diplomatic pressure, notably from the United States and Italy, the government has changed the electoral law to give more breathing space to the opposition and has kept the peace in what has been a remarkably quiet election campaign.

"There are no posters around and very few rallies. You have to pinch yourself to remember that an election is taking place at all," one resident of the capital, Tirana, reported.

If the elections are deemed to be fair, they will be an important first step in restoring Albania's democratic credibility. But if there is a repeat of last May's intimidation by young thugs and systematic ballot- rigging - which resulted in the opposition's refusal to recognise the result - it will be a signal that the country is sliding irrevocably into authoritarian one- party rule.

Clearly, the international community's policy has been to try to wean President Sali Berisha back on to the democratic track slowly, but without obliging him to lose face.

Pressure to re-run the parliamentary elections has been muted so far, and in exchange Mr Berisha has agreed to tighten up the electoral procedures to reduce the risk of cheating. The President has also awarded the opposition far greater access to the state-run broadcast media.

The campaign has not been without its tensions.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe had planned to send a team of observers from its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the body that compiled the most thorough, and most damning, report into the irregularities last time.

Earlier this week, Mr Berisha's government tried to veto certain members of the ODIHR team, saying that they were not objective, and as a result the OSCE decided to withdraw the whole lot in protest. Albania's main opposition party, the Socialists, accused the government of taking an "act of primitive revenge" against a respectable body that had dared to criticise it.

There will, nevertheless, be around 400 international monitors at polling stations around the country, 150 of them from Italy which has taken the diplomatic lead on Albania on behalf of the European Union.

Potential flashpoints to watch for will be the mayoral races in the big cities, especially Tirana, where considerable political power is at stake and all the parties are fielding high-profile candidates. The Democratic Party currently controls all five of Albania's biggest cities and will be reluctant to relinquish any of them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Service Engineer - Vehicles

£25000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's premier supplie...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate