Albania opposition says too early to claim vote win

TIRANA – Albania’s opposition Socialist Party said on Thursday it was premature for any party to claim victory ahead of the final results of the country’s election the ruling Democratic Party has already claimed it has won.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha said he would wait for the Central Election Commission to issue the final results, but he could form a government after the vote which produced the tightest race since Albania toppled communism in 1990. 

International monitors said the elections failed to meet the international standards Albania wanted to convince the European Union and the United States it had matured democratically.

“We will wait patiently because we owe it to the citizens of this country who made the Socialist party the first political force in the country,” said Socialist leader Edi Rama.

With less than one percent of Sunday’s vote still not counted, unofficial results showed Berisha’s 17-party Democrat-led coalition lacked one additional seat to give it a majority, with 70 seats against the Socialists’ 66 seats.

One lawmaker of the Socialist Integration Movement (SIM), which gained four seats, said he would give his vote to Berisha, not to Rama. SIM is politically inclined to work with the Socialists although they have no pre-election deal.

“The figures speak clearly; the current majority has all numbers, and thanks to the will expressed by lawmaker (Dritan) Prifti … can form a government,” Berisha said.

“I have naturally not won as much as I would have wished, but I will enlarge the coalition,” he added, explaining he was aiming to work with other parties, not individuals.

Under the regional proportional system, applied for the first time, all results must come in before the final result is calculated. The tight race was unprecedented for Albania and commentators forecast the next government will be weak.

International monitors said violations persisted despite improvements. The EU, which is closely watching the vote for signs Albania’s democracy will qualify for membership, said the election fell short of international standards.

“PEOPLE’S VERDICT”

Delays in the vote count and stand-offs over breaches of procedure that kept stalling the final tally are expected to negatively influence the monitors’ report the EU will review before considering Albania’s application for candidate status.

Overnight crowds of Socialist supporters gathered at a vote counting centre in the southern area of Fier to block some ballot boxes from travelling to Tirana to be counted there.

The Socialists believe the Fier ballots will give them the ninth parliamentary mandate there, accused Berisha of trying to “plunder” that mandate by invalidating the vote count.

“The first truth is that Sali Berisha will not have a second mandate once the people’s verdict comes out,” Rama said.

“Their coalition lifeboat with many parties has decreased our advantage but not as much as to endanger our ninth mandate that the prime minister wants to take with force.”

Feuding over breaches of procedure and nervous standoffs between vote counters and politicians, most of them broadcast live on television, have delayed the count and annoyed Albanians anxious for a final resolution.

In tit-for-tat retorts televised live, both sides tried to paint the other as the one responsible for the delay by using even criminals and armed civilians to intimidate vote counters.

Rama said the Socialists would file legal complaints about the voting irregularities in the northern town of Shkoder, where the final tally showed zero votes for the Socialists in many areas, and Berat in souther Albania.

The complaint process will delay the government’s formation.

Both parties favour European integration, market reforms, improved infrastructure and modernising agriculture. The Socialists say they would turn to the International Monetary Fund for help, but Berisha has been cautious about this.

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