With the electoral campaign for the June 21 local elections in full gear, mayoral candidates for the municipality of Tirana, home to a third of the country’s population, have focused much of their attention on economic issues like employment and taxes, which are also the top concern for voters, according to surveys.
Six candidates are running for the Tirana mayor, and the several opinion polls show three candidates will likely receive a substantial part of the vote – two from the traditional leftist and center-right coalitions and an independent.
Socialist Party-led coalition’s Erion Veliaj and Democratic Party-led coalition’s Halim Kosova were among the four candidates who participated at a question and answer session set up by the American Chamber of Commerce in Albania. Their sessions were separate and did not involve any debating.
Veliaj promised tax incentives to businesses to increase youth employment currently estimated at around 30 percent.
“We have proved that when businesses are given funding incentives for 12 months of social security contributions … and wages they are interested in increasing employment,” said Veliaj.
He added he intends to develop public-private partnerships on parking spaces and warehouses to store local agricultural products.
Asked about his tax policy, Veliaj said the new municipality, which under the administrative reform extends beyond its current borders and comprises around 1 million people including 13 communes outside the capital, will focus on the proper collection of taxes, describing promises of tax cuts as populist.
Veliaj said he will introduce progressive taxation so that people living outside Tirana pay less as is the case property tax.
Industry, agriculture and tourism are the priorities of Veliaj’s program, he said.
Halim Kosova, who is running to replace opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha as Tirana Mayor, has employment and economic development as his top priorities.
“I will focus on two key areas; reducing taxes and a more business-friendly environment but also the extension of the guarantee fund and more public investments in infrastructure, education,” said Kosova, whose project also includes resuming the suspended construction of the Tirana boulevard and building a major public transportation hub just outside the capital.
The center-right candidate promised a cut in local government taxes and a tax free policy for new businesses employing more than 50 people in their first four years of operation.
His administration would also support the handicraft sector and characteristic Tirana products that can create 5,000 new jobs in the tourism and agribusiness sector and strengthening the Tirana brand, Kosova said.
Two other candidates Arben Tafaj, a former neighborhood chief, and Sazan Guri, a green activist, also unveiled their platforms.
Gjergj Bojaxhi, an independent candidate who is expected to get a surprise high showing in the election with polls giving him more than 10 percent of the vote, did not participate in the AmCham event conference because of what he described as a “standard format of unveiling the platforms” and not a real debate between the candidates.
He invited the candidates to hold a direct debate instead.
Focused on the challenges and opportunities facing Tirana in the near and distant future, the conference was a chance for the candidates to discuss issues that are important to voters in a dynamic and interesting venue.
“We hope that there will be more such exchanges, more such efforts to get the information out to the voters, more such exchanges of ideas. From the U.S. Embassy’s perspective, it is important that the voters be informed voters and they that have an opportunity to hear directly from the candidates,” said Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tirana Henry Jardine.