Albania opposition alleges foul play in vote count

TIRANA,

Albania’s opposition Socialists charged yesterday that the ruling Democrats were improperly trying to influence the country’s lengthy vote count by declaring victory before all ballots from last week’s national election were tallied. 

Albania joined NATO in April and has been under intense international pressure to ensure the June 28 vote was free of the fraud that marred the first six elections held after the Balkan country’s communist regime fell in 1990.

But the Socialists threatened to hold street protests after election authorities declared late Friday that Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democrats had won enough seats to form a government. The country’s electoral commission is re-counting ballots from some polling stations following complaints about irregularities and the Socialists insist it cannot declare that the Democrats won 71 seats while recounts are still pending. They accuse Berisha of trying to sway the electoral commission.

“I appeal to Berisha to abandon the idea of imposing himself on the Albanian people unless he wants to meet and face the people in the street,” said Gramoz Ruci, a senior Socialist politician.

Both main parties ran on similar platforms, pledging to lift Albania out of poverty and secure its goal of joining the European Union. Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued preliminary findings saying there were improvements and fewer irregularities in this year’s voting, but that some violations such as family voting and the late opening of polling centres persisted.

Election officials said late Friday that Democrats won 46.69 percent, giving them 71 seats in the 140-seat parliament — the exact number needed to form a government. Tirana Mayor Edi Rama’s opposition Socialists won 45.36 percent, or 65 seats, with a former prime minister’s coalition in third place.

Berisha, acknowledging that he could at best form a weak government if the current results are upheld in the re-count, invited the third-place SMI to join him in a coalition.

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