Albanians vote for parliament as the West warily watches

Albanians are set to go to the polls on Sunday in parliamentary elections which could gauge the country’s readiness for closer ties with the European Union. Though it joined NATO in April, Albania has yet to prove that its democratic practices have progressed enough to unblock its bid for EU membership.

Violence has already marred the campaign, with an activist shot dead, a local political leader dead in a bomb blast and firebombs lobbed at party seats in remote villages.

Tension continued to rise as the final rallies were being prepared Friday, despite warnings from the EU and United States that mistakes from past elections must not be repeated.

Also, 250,000 out of the country’s 3.1 million voters will not be allowed to cast ballots because they do not have passports or identity cards. The decision drew criticism from international officials and the opposition.

Pre-election surveys predicted a close race between the conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party and the Tirana Mayor Edi Rama’s Socialsts.

In the end, smaller parties, such as the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) and the Christian Democrats may tip in favour of the big players.

Concerned by the high potential for violence, foreign diplomats warned politicians against the customary early declarations of victory Sunday night.

Exit polls by several agencies were expected shortly after the voting ends at 7 pm (1700 GMT), but their reliability may be questionable, particularly in case of anticipated narrow margins.

Some 400 foreigners, including officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election-monitoring mission (ODIHR), and 2,500 local volunteers, were registered to observe the entire election process.

According to new rules in Albania, at least 30 per cent of the 140 incoming legislators must be women.


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