/ 5 July 2005

Victory claims fly after Albanian election

Albania’s rival political leaders continued to claim victory on Tuesday after a general election at the weekend that has been criticised by European observers for failing to meet democratic standards.

Electoral officials appealed for calm as Prime Minister Fatos Nano of the Socialist Party and opposition leader Sali Berisha of the Democrats exhorted their supporters to believe they had won.

Official results, expected to be released on Monday, are still being compiled and no confirmed trend has emerged from Sunday’s voting for the 120-seat Parliament in the mainly Muslim country.

Repeating a victory claim issued on Sunday night even before counting had begun, Socialist Party official Gramoz Ruci claimed the party had won 55 districts and ”could be capable of forming a government with other parties”.

Meanwhile, enthusiastic Democrat supporters late on Monday shouted ”Death to communism!” as former president Berisha announced: ”Our victory is profound. The Democratic Party has the majority to govern the country.”

”Vote counting is being seriously undermined by the lack of will of the political parties to contribute to this process,” Electoral Commission chief Ilirian Celibashi said.

The aim of election workers to announce a result 12 hours after voting closed has become ”impossible” in some districts due to interference from party supporters, he said.

His warning came a day after the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in a joint statement with the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, said the poll only in part respected democratic norms.

A free and fair vote is essential for Albania’s hopes of signing an accession accord with the European Union this year, a key step toward eventual membership — possibly in 2014.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he welcomed the high turnout and peaceful atmosphere for the vote, but noted that ”certain shortcomings” had been reported by observers.

About 400 foreign observers were in the Balkan country to monitor the vote.

Unofficial results suggest a lead for Berisha’s party in key electorates such as the capital, Tirana. One electoral official has also confirmed a trend in favour of the Democrats, but no official results have been released. — Sapa-AFP