TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s president criticized election officials Tuesday for ruling in favor of holding municipal elections he tried to cancel, alleging “political pressure and blackmail” influenced the decision.

President Ilir Meta said that full membership negotiations with the European Union wouldn’t open if Albania held Sunday’s elections without the opposition, which is boycotting them.

The Electoral College unanimously rejected a small political party’s petition to pull out of the elections based on the president’s decision, in effect rejecting Meta’s decree.

Meta has said he didn’t want the June 30 elections to take place because he feared they would be “undemocratic” without the participation of center-right opposition parties that planned to boycott the voting.

The president said Tuesday only Albania’s Constitutional Court has authority to judge the validity of his decrees.

The Democratic Party-led opposition also doesn’t recognize the Electoral College ruling. The opposition has held protests since mid-February over allegations of vote-rigging and government links to organized crime. The Socialist government rejects the accusations.


“There will be no election without the opposition. They won’t be allowed, they won’t be accepted, they won’t be recognized,” Democratic leader Lulzim Basha told journalists Tuesday.

Basha said a group formed to oppose the municipal elections has branches across Albania that are ready to keep voting from taking place. Last week, opposition supporters damaged ballot boxes and other election materials in some opposition-led districts.

Prime Minister Edi Rama has insisted the elections will take place as scheduled Sunday. Rama said the main goal of the opposition is to disrupt efforts to launch European Union membership negotiations.

Last week, the EU postponed the start of membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia despite warnings a delay could undermine reform efforts and stability in the Balkans region.


Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini