Albania rests ahead of Sunday's national polls

Associated Press
Albania’s Conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha, 68, who is seeking a third term in office, speaks at a rally in Tirana, Thursday, June 13, 2013. The general election taking place Sunday, June 23, 2013 is considered a test for the Balkan country to shed its post-Communist legacy of troubled popular votes, as it seeks closer ties and eventual membership in the European Union. Conservative Sali Berisha, is seeking a third term and will speak at his Democratic Party's main election rally Friday in the capital Tirana. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Political campaigning stopped in Albania Saturday, a day before parliamentary elections that are considered a crucial test for its ambitions for closer ties and eventual membership in the European Union.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha, 68, is seeking a third term but faces a strong challenge from Socialist leader Edi Rama, 48.

Both pledge to improve the people's lives, fight corruption and crime and take one of Europe's poorest countries into the European Union, which is pressing for broader democratic reforms and an improved election record.

As required by law, on Saturday political parties ceased their one-month campaign.

President Bujar Nishani urged everyone entitled to vote to have "Albania and its future" uppermost in their minds.

The monthlong election contest has been relatively calm, unlike past elections that were frequently marred by violence, vote-rigging and intimidation. However, there have been reports of civil servants and even school children being pressured to attend pro-government rallies.

On Sunday some 3.3 million eligible voters will choose in a regional proportional system among more than 6,900 candidates from 66 political parties who run for 140 parliamentary seats.

Some 400 international observers and more than 8,000 local ones will monitor the polls.

Voting opens at 7 a.m. local time (0900 GMT) Sunday and ends at 7 p.m. It is uncertain when results will be announced.

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