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The bitter rivals contesting Albania’s election

Supporters of Socialist Party wave their flags during a pre-election rally in Tirana, Albania June 22, 2017. — Reuters pic Supporters of Socialist Party wave their flags during a pre-election rally in Tirana, Albania June 22, 2017. — Reuters pic

TIRANA, June 23 — Political players contesting Albania’s legislative election on Sunday harbour long-held animosities that border on hatred. 

The vote, which pitches the ruling Socialists against the opposition Democratic Party, will test the democratic maturity of a country eager to join the European Union. 

Here are the main players:

Artist-turned-PM

Albania’s authoritative premier since 2013, Socialist leader Edi Rama has pledged to build a “European Albania” as a “modern state ruled by law” ever since he entered politics after the fall of Enver Hoxha’s communist dictatorship in the late 1980s.

He has long sought power, declaring an election he lost in 2009 as neither free nor fair. His supporters took to the streets in 2011, and three were killed by gunfire.

The episode deepened Rama’s rivalry with then-PM Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party. The pair had fallen out over an ideological dispute as students.

A former mayor of the capital Tirana, 52-year-old Rama is regularly accused by the right of links to organised crime. He has offered to step down if they provide evidence. 

Often casually dressed in a T-shirt, with short hair and a regular three-day beard, Rama is seen as a dynamic and savvy communicator.

He studied at art school in Paris and his office is covered with his own paintings.

The multilingual former basketball player hopes to win a large enough majority to strengthen his grip on power and shed the need for coalition partners.

Right’s historic leader

The first non-communist president and a former PM, Sali Berisha has dominated Albanian politics for the past two decades.

The son of a Muslim family from the northern mountains, the 72-year-old says he is now a “simple member of the Democratic Party” with no aspirations to take back power.

A cardiologist by training, he stepped down as party chief in 2013 and named close ally Lulzim Basha as his successor, but Berisha is still considered a unifying figure of the political right.

A charismatic speaker, Berisha is less present in electoral meetings but remains active in the media. 

He has described Rama as “enemy” rather than an adversary, but is now less harsh in his criticism of the incumbent PM.

Berisha’s opponents see him as representative of a corrupt political system and responsible for the chaos of 1997, when more than 2,000 were killed in an armed rebellion. 

The unrest was triggered by the collapse of a fraudulent pyramid investment scheme that he had allowed to flourish.

Trump-loving heir

Lulzim Basha, the Democrats’ leader since 2013, asserts that he has moved on from the tutelage of Berisha and intends to build a “New Republic”.

The ambitious lawyer has had a meteoric career, serving as minister of foreign affairs, interior and transport.

The 43-year-old was also mayor of Tirana — defeating Rama to the job in 2011 — before Berisha named him the new party chief.

Basha boycotted parliament for several months this year and organised street protests calling for Rama’s resignation and a transitional government to ensure a free and fair election.

But the two sides struck a deal in mid-May, with the Democrats given control of several ministries in the run-up to the vote.

Basha has since softened attacks against Rama and dropped his accusations that the PM was using money from the cannabis trade to manipulate the vote. 

Basha’s idol is US President Donald Trump. — AFP

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