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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — An exit poll for Albania’s parliamentary election on Sunday suggests that the ruling Socialist Party is in a tight race with the opposition Democratic Party.

The exit poll run for Euronews Albania from the MRB, part of the London-based Kantar Group, projects that the left-wing Socialists will win about 46% of the vote while the Democrats are expected to capture about 42%. It is still unclear whether Socialists will get 71 seats in the 140-seat parliament to govern alone.

Some 3.6 million eligible voters in Albania and abroad voted to elect 140 lawmakers for a four-year mandate in the Balkan nation.

“The process was characterized by a calm situation, security and integrity,” said Ilirjan Celibashi, head of the Central Election Commission. He said the winner would be known in 48 hours.

Albania, a NATO member since 2009, is looking forward to launching full membership negotiations with the 27-member European Union later this year and Sunday’s vote is considered a key milestone on that path.

The hope is that post-communist Albania’s 10th parliamentary election will be free and fair. To date, voting always has been marred by irregularities.

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

There were some glitches. The electronic identification machines did not operate in 167 out of 5,199 polling stations after no operators to work them were found in those remote areas, according to Celibashi.

A police officer was injured with a knife attack in northern Puke town. The reason why he was attacked by a man at a polling station is not clear.

There were also some efforts to photograph ballots, which is not allowed by law, and a few physical arguments among opposing political supporters.

Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Socialists, who are seeking their third consecutive mandate, wants to boost Albanian efforts in tourism, energy, agriculture and digital projects.

“Now let’s listen to the people,” Rama said after the polls closed. He also claimed victory saying “Albania will come out victorious from this process, not only the party that will keep on governing the country.”

Lulzim Basha of the Democrats has accused the government of corruption and links to organized crime, and has pledged to lower taxes, raise salaries and provide more social support.

Speaking to supporters Basha claimed that his party had won but said counting should be held in line with the law.

Confrontations between supporters culminated Wednesday in the central city of Elbasan, where a Socialist Party activist died. Police said the victim was shot, allegedly by a member of the Democratic Party, during an argument.

Though officially impartial, President Ilir Meta turned into a strong government opponent, accusing Rama of concentrating legislative, administrative and judicial powers in his hands and running a “kleptocratic regime” that has bungled Albania’s pandemic response and delayed the country’s EU integration.

Scores of foreign observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Western embassies monitored the vote.

U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim urged candidates and political leaders “to accept the judgment of voters” while EU Ambassador Luigi Soreca also urged them to respect ”the voice of the Albanian citizens.”

Albania has seen a significant fall in daily coronavirus cases in the past week despite political rallies being held around the country. More than 400,000 people have received a vaccine jab. An overnight curfew has been enforced with restrictions on gatherings and mandatory mask-wearing.

___

Follow Semini at http://twitter.com/lsemini



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