Albania’s ruling Socialists plan election win celebration

Albania’s socialist party leader Edi Rama waves after casting his ballot during parliamentary elections in Surel, near Tirana, Sunday, April 25, 2021. Albanians are voting in parliamentary elections amid the virus pandemic and a bitter political rivalry between the two largest political parties. Some 3.6 million eligible voters, including Albanians overseas, will elect 140 lawmakers among some 1,800 candidates from 12 political parties or coalitions and those running independently. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Nearly all ballots have been counted in Albania’s general election and the ruling Socialist Party remained in the lead Tuesday with the possibility of forming a government on its own.

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialists have 49% of the votes, followed by Lulzim Basha’s main opposition center-right Democratic Party with 39%, according to an official vote tally with more than 92% of the ballots counted.

Preliminary calculations show that Rama’s Socialists have captured more than 70 seats in the 140-seat parliament to govern alone.

Rama invited his supporters to go to Tirana’s main Skanderbeg Square at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT; 12 p.m. EDT) in a “hug of victory.” Rama has vowed to boost tourism, energy, agriculture and digital projects in his third consecutive mandate.

The Central Election Commission has said the final result for the winning party will be formally announced later Tuesday. Counting will then continue for the candidates — it was the first time Albanian voters selected individual candidates in addition to political parties.

Preliminary turnout Sunday was almost 48%, slightly higher than four years ago.

Around 3.6 million eligible voters could cast ballots to elect 140 lawmakers for a four-year mandate in the Balkan nation.

Sunday’s voting took place relatively smoothly, though there were some problems with logistics and allegations of the photographing of ballots. The main issue was voters’ electronic identification, which was applied for the first time in the country. It didn’t work in 167 of the country’s 5,199 polling stations.

International observers hailed the e-voting technology but also mentioned allegations of vote buying and the death of a political supporter in a shooting before the election.

The European Union urged Albanian political parties to ensure a democratic counting process and respect “the outcome of elections.”

“We expect the new Albanian parliament and government to continue pursuing the country’s reform agenda with determination, particularly on the rule of law,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said in a statement.

Albania, a NATO member since 2009, is looking forward to launching full membership negotiations with the 27-member EU later this year. Sunday’s vote — post-communist Albania’s 10th parliamentary election — is considered a key milestone on that path. To date, voting always has been marred by irregularities.

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Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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