A 56-year-old local politician, Pjerin Xhuvani, was murdered on Wednesday in the central town of Elbasan in an armed clash between supporters of rival parties in Albania’s election campaign, which left four others injured, including a police officer, police said in a press release.
Xhuvani is a former state official who had campaigned for several parties, including the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, and the Justice and Integration and Unity Party, while being a Socialist Party activist currently.
He had previously been sentenced for corruption, for extracting money from the National Health Insurance Fund using fake prescriptions.
Taulant Balla, head of the ruling Socialists’ parliamentary group, blamed the opposition centre-right Democratic Party for the fatal clash. He claimed the opposition sent an armed paramilitary group to the town.
Gazment Bardhi, Secretary General of the Democrats, said the clash occurred after a team from his party came across a group of people “distributing cash and collecting ID Cards”.
According to Bardhi, they first notified the police who blocked several suspected cars, but after more Socialist activists arrived on the scene, an armed clash followed.
Bardhi said two of his supporters, part of a structure that he described as a “vote protection group made up of honest former police officers”, were injured in the clash.
Police said Arbër Papleka, a former member of Albania’s elite police force, RENEA, was arrested as the suspect who shot Xhuvani.
Another injured person, apparently a Socialist Party supporter, is on the run. Police have been slow in providing more information about the event. Local media reported that officers from Elbasan police were present at the scene before the shootout started but apparently were unable to stop it.
Elbasan is notorious for the presence of several organised crime groups and political parties have often accused each other of mobilizing gangs there in their election campaigns.
Albania’s Western partners have called for calm in the run-up to the April 25 legislative election in which PM and Socialist leader Edi Rama is seeking a third term.
Vote buying and voter intimidation are seen as widespread in the poor Elbasan region, which has become a battleground between the parties. The area where the fatal clash occurred is known as a poor neighbourhood. Buying ID cards from people in poor areas is known tool parties use to deny votes to their rivals.