Albania’s Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama has hit back at opposition accusations of blackmailing voters over access to government funds.
Rama said his proposal to block funds to municipalities run by opposition mayors were in fact tied to opposition leader Sali Berisha’s designation by the US State Department as “being involved in significant corruption.”
The majority of the state budget is controlled by the central government in Tirana. Taxes directly collected by local governments do not provide sufficient funds to keep local services running effectively.
As a result, municipalities with the support of the central government have a tendency to receive more investment than municipalities with ties to the opposition.
Rama called for funds for certain municipalities to be blocked while inspecting a park and bridge in the Kamza municipality. The area is on the outskirts of Tirana, and is made up of some 100,000 voters. The majority of voters there support the opposition.
Control of the Kamza municipality is crucial for upcoming parliamentary elections. The municipality makes up part of the wider Tirana county, which elects one-third of all MPs in the country.
“We will never be pushed to collaborate with individuals designated ‘non grata,’” Rama said.
The US recently designated former Albanian President and former Prime Minister Berisha as ‘non grata.’ Berisha currently leads the main opposition party Bashke Fitojme (Together We Win”), alongside former President Ilir Meta.
Berisha has responded by accusing Rama of using state funds as a political tactic and blackmailing voters.
“If you use government funds, that makes the competition unfair,” Berisha said.
“The threat that, if you do not vote for him there will be no funds, shows that he considers the funds as if they were inherited from his father and not as they are, taxes paid by citizens,” he continued.
Rama dismissed claims that his proposal was a threat, and said that he was just being honest with voters.
“These [opposition] candidates are not there to deal with citizens’ concerns, but to transform the municipalities into war hostages against the government,” Rama said.
Most of Albania has no access to a regular water supply, and most rural roads have not been paved. Municipalities currently rely on the goodwill of the central government to secure access to the country’s annual state budget of 6.4 billion euros.
Albanians will hit the polls to vote for 61 mayors and 3,200 councillors on 14 May.
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