Albania's Socialists celebrate poll win

Associated Press
Opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama gestures as he gives his victory speech at party headquarters in Tirana calling on the governing Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha to acknowledge its loss, after counting results show a clear lead of his party, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. Albania’s national elections were seen as key test for the country’s hopes for closer ties with the European Union. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)
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Opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama gestures as he gives his victory speech at party headquarters …

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's conservative prime minister was coming under increasing pressure Wednesday to concede defeat in the country's general election, after near complete results showed a landslide victory for his Socialist opponents.

With 98 percent of ballots counted from Sunday's election, the election commission said the Socialists' coalition, headed by former Tirana mayor Edi Rama, had won around 53 percent. Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party-led coalition trailed with 36 percent — a full 12 percentage points less than four years ago.

The results, if verified, are a crushing blow for Berisha, the man who has dominated Albanian politics in the post-Communist era and who had been vying for a third term as prime minister.

So far, Berisha has not made any statements about the vote count, despite increasing pressure from Rama to concede defeat.

Before his initial election to the post in Sept. 2005, Berisha served as the country's president from 1992-97, and was elected to a second term before the government collapsed a few months after the election in the chaos caused by the collapse of pyramid investment schemes in which many Albanians lost their life savings.

Rama, who said Tuesday he was waiting for his opponent to concede defeat, urged his supporters to "work ... toward the place we deserve — the family of united Europe."

Jubilant Socialist party supporters drove around Tirana's main square near the Socialists' headquarters, honking their horns and waving party flags from the windows.

Sunday's election was seen as a key test in the country's ambition to join the European Union.

Albania, once one of the world's most reclusive countries during its Communist years, became a NATO member in 2009 and has applied for EU candidate status. But so far that has been denied over criticism it has not done enough to fight corruption and push through democratic reforms.

"This victory is not the arrival but only the start. That change will not come overnight and easily. All together we should work and sacrifice to make it happen," Rama said, addressing a crowd of cheering supporters in central Tirana on Tuesday night.

Preliminary calculations from local analysts give the Socialists' coalition 84 seats in the 140-seat parliament.

But a pre-election dispute over the country's Central Election Commission could complicate the final stages of the vote count. Three of the commission's seven members pulled out of the body in April in a dispute over Berisha's replacement of a commission member. With only four members currently in the commission, a legal issue could arise as at least five votes are needed to certify the election results.

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