The latest poll gives former President Sali Berisha's Democratic Party 35 percent, against 34 percent for Prime Minister Fatos Nano's Socialist Party, Reuters reported on 29 June.
Postcommunist Albanian politics are highly polarized between those two parties, and the political culture is often characterized by acrimony and personal insults. Previous elections have been marred by mutual charges of fraud, which have not always been proven. Most leading politicians have their roots in the communist-era elite, and many are widely regarded as heavy handed and corrupt.
Many people still consider Berisha impulsive and blame him for the collapse of pyramid investment schemes in 1997, which led to his resigning the presidency that year. Many Albanians similarly regard Nano as a corrupt vestige of a communist-era old-boy network and ill suited to 21st-century tasks. There is a broad national consensus in support of issues such as Euro-Atlantic integration, and differences between the two main parties often boil down to matters of personal trust and loyalties.
Several smaller parties might also win seats in the new legislature, including Genci Pollo's New Democrats, who have an election pact with Berisha's party, from which Pollo split several years ago, Reuters reported on 29 June.
Another possible kingmaker is former Socialist Prime Minister Ilir Meta, who broke with Nano in 2004 and set up the Socialist Integration Movement. Meta has 10 percent support in the latest poll and has not committed himself to any coalition partner. He and Nano are bitter rivals, and his price for forming a coalition with the Socialists is likely to be that they name a prime minister other than Nano.
One such possibility is Tirana Mayor Edi Rama, who made a name for himself in recent years by rigorously enforcing zoning legislation, improving the quality of the streets, and liberally using color to liven up the skyline.
Rama, Pollo, and Meta are representatives of the younger generation in Albanian politics.
The EU and United States will be closely watching the elections for evidence that Albania is overcoming the problems that have marred earlier ballots.