Albania Election: Socialist Rama leads

Associated Press
Election officials count votes in Tirana, Monday, June 24, 2013 after Albania’s national elections, which were marred by gunfire at a polling station leaving one man dead and two others wounded. Initial returns indicated a narrow lead for the opposition Socialist Party-led coalition of Edi Rama, who is running against Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the Democratic party. Both men claimed victory after polls closed Sunday evening. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)
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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Early election returns in Albania showed Edi Rama's Socialist coalition leading Monday in the popular vote count, but the conservative incumbents claimed that they still expected to win.

Both Rama and conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha have claimed victory in Sunday's vote, that was marred by shooting outside a polling station which left one man dead and two others wounded.

The Central Election Commission reported the Socialists' coalition was taking 52 percent of the vote and Berisha's Democrats at 37 percent when less than a quarter of the ballots counted. Berisha's party won 48 percent of the popular vote in 2009.

In Albania, seats in parliament are awarded based on a party's share of the vote in each of 12 districts. For example, a party which won 50 percent of the vote in a 12-seat district could expect to win six seats. There are 140 seats in parliament.

Turnout was 54 percent of some 3.3 million registered voters, according to CEC estimates, in the eighth national polls since the fall of communism in 1990.

Confident of winning, Rama said his opponent had a role to play in Albania's future.

"This is the moment in politics when losers should take part in the victory of their country ... Albania should hold its head high after these elections," Rama said.

Full results were not expected until Tuesday, and the Democrats insisted the early returns were misleading.

"When all the ballots are counted we shall be the winners," party official Gerti Bogdani said, calling for a "peaceful, calm and regular" vote-counting process.

A police spokesman said Gjon Gjoni, 49, died after being shot in an exchange of fire that also wounded Mhill Fufi, 49, a candidate for Berisha's governing Democratic Party, and a relative of Fufi.

The violence drew condemnation from an EU official.

"Violence is simply not acceptable and cannot be tolerated," Ettore Sequi, the EU ambassador to Tirana, told Associated Press television.

Berisha and Rama have both expressed the hope that Albania can gain entry to the EU, and Sunday's election was seen as a test of whether the country can run a fair and safe election.

"These elections are a crucial test for the democratic maturity of the country a test for the smooth functioning of the Albanian institutions," Sequi said.

Preliminary findings of some 400 international observers were expected later Monday.

Although the election campaign was highly acrimonious, it was generally considered peaceful.

In 2009, three people were killed in politically motivated attacks during the campaign. They Socialists boycotted the parliament for a long time in protest to what it called manipulation from the governing Democrats.

Albania, now a NATO member despite a rocky road to democracy, has been denied EU candidate status twice since 2009 because of criticism that it has not done enough to fight corruption and proceed with democratic reforms that include its ability to hold elections that comply with international and European standards.

Last month, parliament held an extraordinary session to pass the last three laws in a series of 12 key recommendations required by the EU as part of the country's quest for eventual membership.

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Associated Press writer Nebi Qena in Tirana contributed to this report.

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