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Albania’s Socialists win election, gain 3rd straight mandate

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s left-wing Socialist Party has secured its third consecutive mandate in a parliamentary election, winning nearly one in two votes and enough seats in parliament to govern alone, electoral authorities said on Tuesday.

The Central Election Commission said that with 98 percent of the ballots from Sunday’s voting counted, Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialists had won 49 percent of the vote and 74 of parliament’s 140 seats. That’s as many seats as they won in the previous election.

The main opposition center-right Democratic Party got 39 percent of the ballots and 59 seats.

Thousands of Socialist supporters gathered in Tirana’s main Skanderbeg Square to celebrate the victory, defying pandemic restrictions.

Rama addressed the flag-waving crowd.

“My dream … is to make Albania in this decade … the Balkan champion, in tourism and agro-tourism, in energy and agriculture and in fast, qualitative, incorruptible digital services,” he said.

Much of the speech was directed at the opposition Democrats, whom he urged to join the “national mega project.”

The Central Election Commission has said the final results 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. It may take a week to conclude.

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

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.

“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 hoping to launch full membership negotiations with the 27-member EU later this year.