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Albania PM claims victory, opposition cries foul

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha's centre-right coalition claimed victory on Wednesday after closely fought weekend legislative elections contested by the left-wing opposition.

world Updated: Jul 02, 2009 15:37 IST

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha's centre-right coalition claimed victory on Wednesday after closely fought weekend legislative elections contested by the left-wing opposition.

With the counting of ballots almost complete, official results gave Berisha's Democrats a slender lead of one percentage point ahead of its strongest rivals, an alliance headed by the Socialists.

Although it was unclear whether the centre-right had enough seats to form a government alone, Democrats spokeswoman Majlinda Bregu said it "won the parliamentary elections on Sunday."

"The party now has a second mandate for the next four years," said Brega. She said the right had secured 71 places in the 140-seat parliament.

Berisha played down a jubilant tone later Wednesday, saying that it was necessary to "wait for the official results by the electoral commission."

After the session of his cabinet, Berisha said it "will continue with reforms until the election of the new government."

But he insisted that Albania "might not have a new government until early September, as the new parliament cannot constitute before the mandate of the outgoing assembly expires" in September.

The Socialist Party of Tirana Mayor Edi Rama accused the Democrats of election fraud. Rama told reporters the "process of vote count is worsening every hour."

"We are determined to defend the will (of voters) expressed on June 28" elections, Rama said, insisting that Berisha "is not a prime minister anymore."

"Berisha is simply a prime minister still in the post and as such, he should ensure order in polling stations for the vote count to continue," Rama said.

He insisted that "despite the frauds, the Socialist Party is the first and it will continue in any legal way to establish the truth" about the vote results.

Official results based on 98.2 percent of the count showed the centre-right won 46.81 percent against 45.42 for the main opposition bloc, and 5.59 for former Prime Minister Ilir Meta's centre-left Socialist Party for Integration.

Central Electoral Commission spokesman Leonard Olli said it was too early to proclaim victory.

"You cannot claim victory until all of the ballots are counted, until the last of the votes has been counted," Olli told AFP, adding the process was blocked at up to 50 polling stations over various disputes.

The commission is expected to present its final results by the end of this week.

The Socialists had already complained of irregularities registered during the process, alleging intimidation of voters by Democrats and blocking of the ballot count.
Berisha brushed off such accusations as "absurd".

The conduct of the polls, considered crucial for the Muslim-majority Balkan state's hopes of joining the EU, won cautious praise from European electoral observers Monday.

But EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn called on Albanian leaders to bring election standards up to international norms.

"Improvements were overshadowed by the politicisation of technical aspects... as well as violence during the election campaign," Rehn said in reference to the killing of three people linked to politics before the vote.

The election came almost three months after the former Stalinist state joined the NATO military alliance and took its first steps towards joining the EU by filing for membership.

All post-communist polls in Albania, one of Europe's poorest nations where Muslims make up around 70 percent of its 3.6 million population, have been disputed and marred by violence.

Some incidents were reported ahead of the vote, with three people killed during campaigning -- including the murder in May of Socialist deputy Fatmir Xhindi.