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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why