Albania votes in parliamentary election

from BBC News..

June 23, 2013

Albanians have gone to the polls in a parliamentary election seen as a crucial test of the country’s progress towards joining the European Union.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha is seeking a third term but faces a strong challenge from opposition leader Edi Rama, a former mayor of Tirana.

As voting got under way, an activist was killed and a candidate from the ruling party was injured in a shootout.

An acrimonious campaign has been marked by allegations of vote-rigging.

A dispute over the country’s electoral commission also threatens to leave the result in doubt.

After polls closed, both the opposition and ruling parties claimed victory.

Results ‘at risk’

Elections in Albania, one of Europe’s poorest countries, have been marred by violence or claims of fraud since the fall of communism there two decades ago.

On the eve of Sunday’s poll, President Bujar Nishani urged voters to have “Albania and its future” uppermost in their minds.

Main contenders

  • Sali Berisha: incumbent Democratic Party PM seeking third term; heads coalition of 25 centrist and centre-right parties
  • Edi Rama: Socialist ex-mayor of Tirana; has coalition of 37 opposition parties

“[We] should properly consider the importance tomorrow’s vote has for our ties with the world, with which our freedom, prosperity, fate of the present and the future are closely linked,” he said.

Mr Berisha and Mr Rama both promise job creation, economic development and tax reform.

They are also both strongly pro-European, reflecting widespread public support for EU integration.

Analysts say the biggest question mark is likely to hang over the Central Electoral Commission.

Because of a dispute between Mr Berisha’s coalition and that of Mr Rama, the seven-member commission has only four members. The minimum legal requirement is five.

On Saturday, a Western diplomat told AFP news agency that there was now “a great risk the results [of Sunday’s polls] would be contested, either by the outgoing coalition or by the opposition”.

More than 6,900 candidates from 66 political parties are running for 140 parliamentary seats.

Overseeing the polls will be about 400 international observers and more than 8,000 Albanian monitors.

The EU, which has twice rejected Tirana’s membership application, said Sunday’s election “represents a crucial test for the country’s democratic institutions and its progress towards the European Union”.

Sunday’s shootout took place near a polling station in the north-western city of Lac.

A police spokesman said an activist from Mr Rama’s party, Gjon Gjoni, was killed in an exchange of fire with Mhill Fufi, a candidate for the ruling party.

Mr Fufi was seriously wounded and is reportedly being treated at a hospital in Tirana.

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