By Alban Bala/Jolyon Naegele
Albania's two main political parties continue to squabble over who won Sunday's (24 June) parliamentary elections. RFE/RL correspondents Alban Bala and Jolyon Naegele report that tensions in the country are mounting because the Central Election Commission has yet to announce any official results.
Tirana/Prague, 26 June 2001 (RFE/L) -- More than 40 hours after polls closed in Albania's parliamentary elections, two rival parties are both claiming victory. Official results have yet to be announced.
Preliminary results were expected Monday (25 June) morning. Now, with no official figures and no explanation for the delay, speculation is mounting that, as in past Albanian elections, there may be attempts under way at voter fraud.
The two main parties, the Socialists and the Democrats, are accusing each other of manipulation and intimidation in the wake of Sunday's vote.
Albania's Central Election Commission has said that vote counts remain unresolved in many of the country's 100 constituencies. An election official told our correspondent today the deadline for district commissions to submit their counts is midnight (local and Prague time) tonight.
The ruling Socialists claim to have won 47 constituencies in the election's first round. But the opposition Democratic Party is likewise claiming victory, saying it won 27 constituencies and took 47 percent of the vote overall. The Socialists argue that the Democrats won only half that amount.
Albania's parliament has 140 seats, 100 of which are filled by direct constituency elections in which the winner must take at least 50 percent of the vote. In those cases where no one wins by that margin, two candidates advance to a second-round run-off. The remaining 40 mandates are chosen by proportional vote in a bid to enable smaller parties to gain parliamentary representation. They must receive at least 2 percent of the vote to get into parliament.
Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta, a Socialist, says the elections passed off better than any other in the past decade:
"It was more democratic, more normal, more calm than any [election] that was held before in our country."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had almost 300 monitors and observers in Albania, says Sunday's election marked progress toward meeting international standards for democratic elections.
The OSCE praised the election commission's conduct as "more professional, objective, transparent, and pragmatic than earlier elections." It says the Socialists and Democrats were "noticeably more restrained in their rhetoric than in earlier elections, thus contributing to an overall peaceful atmosphere." Aside from what it calls "isolated violent incidents," the OSCE says the election was "largely peaceful."
But Edi Paloka, a spokesman for the Democratic Party-led coalition Union for Victory, rejected the OSCE's conclusion. Paloka said: "If they think the election was OK, then [Adolf] Hitler was a democrat." He went on to say Sunday's ballot did little to advance democracy in Albania:
"If these elections can be considered free and honest, then we should accept that there is no democracy or progress in Albania."
Numerous instances of intimidation and tampering have been reported in the wake of the vote. But Albania's Ministry of Public Order described the situation as calm and under full police control.
A ministry spokesman says the most dramatic incident occurred in Tirana, where two Union for Victory members were wounded in an exchange of gunfire with the former bodyguard of the constituency's Socialist candidate, former Defense Minister Luan Hajdaraga, who lost in the first round.
The ministry also says it has arrested three people in the northern Shllak commune who were accused of destroying ballot boxes and interrupting the voting process.
Police say that in Belaj in the northeastern Kukes district, the chairman of the village council destroyed the ballots. In the town of Peshkopi near the Macedonian border, police arrested a man for intimidating and influencing voters.
The ministry also says officials fired a policeman in the port city of Vlora for entering a polling station without authorization. The Union for Victory coalition accused the police of putting psychological pressure on opposition voters throughout the country.
Both the Socialists and the Democrats alleged that clashes and intimidation took place during the election.
The Democratic Party reported violations in Durres and Kavaja. In Shkozet, 10 km south of Kavaja, one person was reported to have stolen 250 ballots, allegedly with the full support of the police. Opposition observers said that two other polling stations in Shkozet were "out of control." Members of the local election commission found the ballot boxes already stuffed with votes as they arrived on the morning of the elections to open the polling station.
In the city of Durres, Democratic candidate Mero Baze withdrew from the race shortly before polls closed, citing ballot tampering. Klement Zguri, a member of the Central Election Commission, describes the situation in the region as unbelievable. He says that in the village of Arapaj east of Durres, every voter cast at least 30 ballots. Observers in Arapaj say at least 2,000 ballots were falsified, and accuse the police of "passively assisting the manipulation."
In one constituency in Tirana, police arrested two opposition commissioners. In another Tirana constituency, a court replaced 33 non-Socialist election commission members after the wife of Prime Minister Meta, Monika Kryemadhi, allegedly brought a suit against them.
Democratic candidate Mimoza Ahmeti, a well-known poet and writer, says the election law stipulates that such appointments can only be made by the Central Electoral Commission and not by a court. Ahmeti said today the election results cannot be accepted. She accuses the police of interfering in the elections in her district and says she will take the case to court.
Democrats also say that in Fier, a high-ranking secret service official threatened commissioners in several polling stations. Reporters say the official also menaced voters whom he suspected would vote for the opposition.
Also in Fier, police interfered at two polling stations, threatening commission members and pressuring voters. In Dermenas, near Fier, the Socialist commune chairman attacked the opposition commissioner, stole the ballot boxes, and delivered them to the home of a Socialist Party activist.
In Kavaja, police forced all opposition members of the electoral commission to vacate the polling stations and handed over the entire process to the commissioners of the Socialist Party.
In Lushnja, the opposition says the police beat its commissioners and forced out all independent observers. The Association for Democratic Culture, a U.S.-sponsored NGO in Lushnja, complained that its observers were thrown out and not allowed to assist the vote counting and administration.
The association said that its 850 observers around the country faced difficulties in entering many polling stations, largely due to police obstruction.
In the southeastern city of Korca, the opposition claimed that police threatened its commission members, as well as observers and voters. Democrats say the police pressure continues in order to tamper with the final result of the first round.