In the basement of an old museum in a village in Albania, a 78-year-old woman protects the last remnant of a dictator.
Albania’s left-wing Socialist Party has secured its third consecutive mandate in a parliamentary election, winning nearly half of votes and enough seats in parliament to govern alone, electoral authorities said.
The Central Election Commission said on Tuesday that, with 98 percent of the ballots from Sunday’s voting counted, Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialists had won 49 percent of the vote and 74 of parliament’s 140 seats. That is the same number of seats they won in the previous election.
The main opposition centre-right Democratic Party got 39 percent of the ballots and 59 seats, while its ally, the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), won seven per cent of the vote and four seats.
Rama told supporters they had delivered his party’s “most difficult but sweetest” election victory, as almost complete results suggested he had clinched a record third term in office.
“We broke the record. It was a historic record. Thank you for placing your faith in us to lead you for another four years,” Rama told thousands of supporters in central Tirana.
“My dream … is to make Albania in this decade … the Balkan champion, in tourism and agro-tourism, in energy and agriculture and in fast, qualitative, incorruptible digital services,” he said.
Much of the speech was directed at the opposition Democrats, whom he urged to join the “national mega project”.
‘Lively and inclusive campaign’
The Central Election Commission has said the final results will be formally announced later on Tuesday. Counting will then continue for the candidates – it was the first time Albanian voters selected individual candidates in addition to political parties. It may take a week to conclude.
Preliminary turnout on Sunday was almost 48 percent, slightly higher than four years ago.
The conduct of the election was closely watched by diplomats from the United States and the European Union, with Albania pushing to open membership talks with the bloc.
Although the campaign was filled with bitter insults between candidates and marred by a gunfight between rival supporters, international observers said the election was “characterised by a lively and inclusive campaign,” though the misuse of public funds during campaigning raised concerns.
This was noted by the EU in a statement from EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and European Neighbourhood Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who said: “Albania has come a long way on its path towards the European Union.
“We expect the new Albanian parliament and government to continue pursuing the country’s reform agenda with determination, particularly on the rule of law.”
Parties regularly dispute the outcome of elections in the Balkan country of 2.8 million people – the last vote in 2017 prompted street protests and some opposition MPs boycotted parliament.
Rama, who has repeatedly promised government improvements as the country battles an inefficient bureaucracy, corruption and high emigration, has tended towards an authoritarian style during his eight years as prime minister.
The artist and former basketball player in power since 2013 continued the spirit of conciliation during his victory rally, calling on opposition parties to work with him to make Albania a “Balkan champion” in tourism.
“I will be the prime minister of all Albanians,” Rama told the crowd, who chanted “victory, victory”.
Lulzim Basha, leader of the main opposition Democrat Party, had earlier insisted his alliance won the election and he is yet to concede.
During the campaign, Rama promised to accelerate the rollout of coronavirus vaccines and complete reconstruction from a 2019 earthquake that left thousands homeless.
But the focal point of the campaign was the clash of personalities between Rama, Basha and current President Ilir Meta.
Rama accused his two rivals of having no policies, only an obsession with getting rid of him. They accused him of vote-rigging and corruption.
Meta, whose wife runs a movement allied to the Democrats that performed badly in the election, had promised to quit if the Socialists won in a fair vote.
On Tuesday, however, he struck a more neutral tone, urging all parties to show “maturity and composure”.
Watchdogs regularly rank Albania as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, and it is also one of the poorest.
Rama is pushing to transform it into a tourism hub with new airports and better infrastructure, but critics complain of corruption and worry about environmental damage.