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Albania Rivals Neck-And-Neck In Parliamentary Vote


The Albanian prime minister and the leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha

The Albanian prime minister and the leader of the Democratic Party, Sali Berisha

TIRANA (Reuters) -- Albania's ruling center-right coalition had just one more seat than the opposition Socialist coalition after more than half of the parliamentary election ballots have been counted.

International monitors said the June 28 election showed improvements over past polls but still saw marked violations and told Albania to stage future elections better.

The European Union and the United States view the ballot as a test of Albania's readiness for integration with Europe. The EU's Swedish Presidency will review Albania's application for candidate status in light of the monitors final poll report.

Results from 2,745 out of 4,753 voting centers showed the ruling Democratic Party coalition had 69 seats while the Socialist-led coalition had 68 seats. The Socialist Integration Movement coalition had three seats.

Under the regional proportional election system being implemented for the first time, the Socialist Integration Movement coalition might become a kingmaker should the current trend be confirmed when all votes are counted.

Final official results are expected late on June 30.

The main opposition Socialist Party of Edi Rama, 44, and the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, 64, traded accusations of intimidation at vote-counting centers.

Releasing the findings of some 500 monitors, the International Election Observation Mission said the elections showed improvements over previous votes, but new NATO member Albania needed to do more to meet standards.

Improvements

Albania signed an association deal with the European Union in June 2006 and applied for EU candidate status in April this year. Unlike the United Staes, which threw its weight behind Albania's NATO entry, the EU feels Albania faces a series of reforms.

"The International Election Observation Mission concluded that Albania's election process demonstrated improvements, but also noted that violations persist," the mission said.

"The country has matured, it has made progress, and many of the fears we had only some months ago have not materialized," said Wolfgang Grossruck, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's vice president who coordinated the OSCE short-term observer mission.

"These improvements were overshadowed by the politicization of technical aspects of the process and violations observed during the campaign which undermined public confidence in the electoral process," Grossruck said.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, the EU official in charge of accession talks with Albania, said on June 29 that the country must do better in staging future elections, citing campaign violence and procedural violations.

He noted that there had been progress in arrangements for the vote but added: "These improvements were overshadowed by the politicization of technical aspects of the election process as well [as] by violence during the election campaign."

"These elections clearly underline the need for the Albanian political leadership...to work hard in order to conduct elections in the future which fully meet international standards and have high public confidence of the Albanian voters."
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