Opposition holds on to lead in Albania vote

With 86 percent of national vote counted, Socialist coalition is on track to take 84 of parliament's 140 seats.

    Opposition holds on to lead in Albania vote
    The polls were marred by Sunday's killing of an opposition activist in the northwestern town of Lac [EPA]

    With almost all votes counted, Albania's Socialist opposition was on course for a landslide victory in a Parliamentary election, but there was still no word from defeated Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

    Berisha, the country's dominant political figure since the end of Stalinist rule in 1991, has not been seen or heard in public since Sunday, when Albanians voted to deny him a third consecutive term as premier.

    With votes counted from 86 percent of polling stations in the impoverished NATO country on Tuesday, a Socialist-led alliance headed by former Tirana mayor Edi Rama was on track to take 84 of parliament's 140 seats.

    Berisha's Democrats were on 56.

    Despite a shooting which left one dead, international monitors noted overall improvements in Albania's election - seen as key test for the country's hopes for closer ties with the European Union.

    The polls were marred by Sunday's killing of an opposition activist in the town of Lac, about 40km north of capital Tirana.

    Seven people were arrested after the incident in which three more people, including a candidate of Berisha's party, were wounded.

    Fraud accusations

    The two rival parties have been accusing each other of vote-buying and electoral roll irregularities, raising concerns there could be a repeat of the 2009 polls which triggered months of political turmoil and government paralysis.

    The West is anxious to see a smooth handover of power in a country that is deeply polarised between the Socialists and Democrats and no stranger to political violence.

    A peaceful transition would help revive Albania's stalled bid to join the European Union, which has yet to accept Tirana's application to join due to misgivings over its democratic maturity and deep-rooted corruption.

    At 68, defeat for Berisha could mean the end of his career.

    "We continue to wait quietly, respecting our democratic and European ethics, for our opponent to accept his loss and accept and join Albania's great victory," said Rama, a 48-year-old artist who, as mayor, won international acclaim for revitalising Albania's drab capital with splashes of paint and avenues of trees.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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