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Nearly million Albanians lack ID cards, pose serious election challenge
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) is optimistic about meeting the deadline to issue ID cards to all voters. However, the opposition contends hundreds of thousands of voters could wind up unable to cast their ballots
Nearly a million Albanian citizens lack ID cards and may be unable to vote in the June 28th general elections. The opposition warns of potential election chaos.By Manjola Hala for Southeast European Times in TiranaLess than three months before Albania\'s general elections, issuing new ID cards or passports to voters remains a main concern for the government and opposition alike. Under the new electoral code, voters must present an ID card or a passport.Experts agree that the requirement to show a valid ID card at the polls is the modern way to guarantee fair elections.The ruling Democratic Party (DP) is optimistic about meeting the deadline to issue ID cards to all voters. However, the opposition contends hundreds of thousands of voters could wind up unable to cast their ballots.Voters in major cities have begun obtaining the new cards, but the process is far from complete.The government and opposition furiously debate the details, even the very number of citizens who lack ID cards and passports. The government puts the figure at 729,000, while the opposition says it is closer to 1 million. Albania has 3.6 million inhabitants.According to the interior ministry, 500,000 citizens had applied for ID cards by April 14th. The ministry says the process of issuing the cards is under control, and "there are enough applications and time for every citizen to receive an ID card."The main opposition Socialist Party (SP) says time is short and disputes the ministry\'s figures. "There are less than three months left," warned the SP\'s Damian Gjiknuri. Using the government\'s figure of 729,000, the SP said only 22% of citizens had applied by April 6th.The SP insists the government drop the ten-euro fee -- which it calls "an election fee" -- and issue ID cards free of charge.The government has decided to extend financial support to retirees, students and the unemployed but to issue free cards only to very limited groups: the blind, paralyzed, Roma and "Egyptians" (Jevgits). The SP says the government is trying to inhibit turnout by low income, left-wing voters. The ruling DP says the SP is contesting election results before the polls have opened.Caught in the middle of the political sparring are those who still lack ID cards. Many have decided to postpone applying in hopes of obtaining the cards free of charge. However, they run the risk of being unable to vote in June.The government and the opposition are both aware that the upcoming elections are an important test for the country\'s EU bid. The opposition Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) called this week on all parliamentary parties to find consensus."All parties should meet and discuss election standards and the process of issuing new identity cards," SMI leader Illir Meta said, warning of potential chaos otherwise.


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