Albanians head to the polls, with Rama and Basha running neck and neck

Albanians go to the polls on Sunday after a bitter and divisive election campaign that has seen recriminations and violence between the country's two main parties.

Prime Minister and former basketball player Edi Rama, seeking a third term as leader of Albania, and his main opponent, Lulzim Basha, are currently running neck-and-neck in the polls.

Basha has called for Rama to resign over corruption claims while his MPs even withdrew from parliament in 2019 over allegations of vote-rigging. .

Sunday's election has been described as a milestone in Albania's path to EU membership - 97% of Albanians are in favour of joining the bloc - although sentiment among the EU member states appears somewhat different.

In 2019, President Emmanuel Macron blocked the start of Albania's negotiations over joining the bloc, asking at the time “How do I explain to my constituents that the country where most asylum seekers are coming from is Albania, yet many EU ministers believe that Albania is improving and that we should launch EU accession talks?”

Macron is nervously eyeing next year's Presidential elections, where he is clearly facing a strong challenge from Marine Le Pen. His own popularity ratings are low - his handling of the COVID19 pandemic, and the spate of Islamic terror attacks on his watch are all chipping away at his precarious majority.

Gledis Gjipali, executive director of the European Movement in Albania, told Euronews "the EU needs to figure out how to deal with member states that ticked the democratic boxes when they joined only to gradually backslide once they were in," in a likely reference to Bulgaria and Romania, a lesson learned late, and which has delayed Ukraine's possible accession to the EU.

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