Political parties in Albania have kicked their mayoral electoral campaigns into full gear, making promises of thousands of jobs, tens of expensive projects, including new schools and infrastructure.
The largest mayoral race in terms of number of voters and political importance is Tirana, where Erion Veliaj of the governing Socialists runs against Halim Kosova of the main opposition Democratic Party.
Veliaj, a former Welfare Minister and activist, is ahead in the polls, but he appears less popular with voters than the large coalition he represents, indicating many Socialist voters are unhappy with Prime Minister Rama’s choice of Veliaj as a candidate.
Kosova, a plain-spoken gynecologist and short-term former Health Minister, is second in the polls and is actually more popular with voters than the party he represents, according to the latest poll numbers.
They are also running against three other candidates, including Gjergj Bojaxhi, an Albanian American business executive who is running as an independent is third in the polls at more than 10 percent by attracting educated middle class Albanians angry with the failures of the political establishment.
These elections are a key test of the parties and the would-be mayors, which under the recent administrative reform will have a far larger area to govern. The number of municipalities has been shrank to 61 from 384 by merging many rural municipalities with nearby towns and cities.
Voters will also choose the local municipal councils in the elections. There have been complaints by voters they did not have a say in the selection of the candidates, who were all chosen by the main party leaders with little public discussion.