Albania election marred by shooting as both sides claim victory

By bne IntelliNews June 24, 2013

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In a closely watched election by the West, Albania's parliamentary election on Sunday, June 23 ended with both sides claiming victory, but was marred by a fatal shootout between rival supporters.

After polling stations closed at 7:00pm in Albania, opposition leader Edi Rama declared victory for his left-wing coalition Alliance for a European Albania and warned the authorities to respect the law and protect the ballot boxes against potential post-poll fraud. "The Alliance for a European Albania is on target to win the mandates it predicted," Rama told a press conference.

However, Prime Minister Sali Berisha's ruling Democratic Party swiftly disputed the claim. "I assure you it is our full belief that Albanians voted convincingly for our alliance," senior Democrat lawmaker Majlinda Bregu told supporters, media reported. "All our internal polls suggest that citizens have convincingly voted for our alliance... Rama has sealed another failure and this time it will be bigger and final."

Two exit polls gave conflicting results and such surveys have not proved accurate in the past. An exit poll published by TV Ora News and conducted by the Italian company IPR Marketing gave Rama's left-wing coalition 52% of the vote and the Democratic Party-led bloc 43%.

Albanian elections have been tainted by widespread fraud in the past; since the end of Albania's communist rule in 1991, this poor Balkan nation has never held an election deemed fully free and fair. This election is being closely watched by the EU in order to determine the country's path toward joining the bloc, with more than 600 international observers monitoring the voting in addition to 8,000 local observers.

Few believe that Berisha, bidding for a third consecutive four-year term, will give up power lightly. And the run-up to the election was dogged by controversy as an unseemly fight over the composition of the country's own election watchdog, the Central Election Commission (CEC), broke out. This has left the Commission short-staffed and unable to certify the result. The CEC said it had allowed several polling stations to remain open after the closing time as some of the 3.2m eligible voters were still waiting to cast their ballots.

The campaign also saw a bigger role played by hard line nationalists in Albania, who are predicted to make big inroads, increasing tensions in an already volatile region still recovering from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the Kosovo War.

On polling day there was a shooting in the northwestern Lac region, in which an opposition activist was killed and a Democrat candidate wounded. According to Reuters, television pictures showed bullet casings scattered across the street and the smashed rear window of a car. Police said four weapons were fired.

With both sides accusing each other of vote-buying and electoral fraud, there are fears of a repeat of the 2009 polls that saw months of political turmoil, government paralysis and violent demonstrations. Eugen Wollfarth, head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Tirana, called on politicians to "consider what is best for the country," which became a Nato member in 2009.

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