Preliminary results show that Albania's ruling Socialist Party is on track to win a new governing mandate in an election seen as key to the country’s future relationship with the European Union.
With more than half of the votes counted, the party of Prime Minister Edi Rama won almost 52 percent of the vote, the Central Election Commission said on June 26.
It would secure the Socialists 76 seats in the 140-seat chamber -- 11 more than in the previous election in 2013.
According to the partial count, the opposition center-right Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha was on track to win about 29 percent of the vote, or 40 seats -- a loss of nine seats compared to 2013.
Rama’s current junior coalition partner, the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), received almost 16 percent of the vote -- some 4.5 percent more than in the previous poll.
Official results were expected later on June 26.
If the partial results hold, it would allow the 52-year-old pro-Europe Rama to set the political agenda without the need for a coalition.
Rama has become increasingly at odds with the LSI and its former leader, former Prime Minister Ilir Meta, who is now president-elect after being voted to the mostly ceremonial position by parliament.
Although the elections apparently went off smoothly, voter turnout was 44.9 percent, a record low for a general election in Albania. In 2013, turnout was 52.7 percent.
Because of the low turnout -- which some people blamed on the record-high temperatures and celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan -- the election commission extended voting by an hour past the scheduled closing time.
The Socialists and Democrats were the leading parties looking to gain an outright majority in the parliament of the NATO-member, Muslim-majority country of 2.9 million people.
The Democrats had threatened to boycott the elections, demanding that Rama resign ahead of the vote to ensure a fair process.
The United States and the EU brokered a deal in May that overhauled election rules and allowed the opposition greater oversight over the process.
Rama is seeking his second term as prime minister. He described the vote, held in front of international observers, as a pivotal moment for the country and its hopes to join the EU.
Rama, who has voiced concerns about Russian influence in the country, has said he would like to complete EU accession talks by the end of this year.
His rival, Basha, has also said he favors EU membership, calling it the "divine mission of the Democratic Party."
The country gained EU-candidate status in 2014, but movement has been slowed by a perceived lack of reforms, including those involved with the election process, and longstanding corruption.
While in power, the Socialists have improved tax collection and ruled over an improvement in economic growth -- 3.45 percent last year from less than 1 percent four years ago.
However, they were unable to fulfill promises to create 300,000 new jobs and provide free health care for everyone over 40 years of age.
The country has come under scrutiny for its massive levels of marijuana production, and it is a major transit route into Europe for cocaine and heroin.
Basha, 43, a former transport and interior minister, accuses Rama of ignoring Albania's problems and glossing them over with "facades and palm trees."
Both Rama and Basha previously served as mayors of the capital of Tirana.
With reporting by VOA, dpa, AP, Reuters, and Balkan Insight