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Albania’s Socialists far ahead in early vote count

Albanians appeared to be unenthusiastic about a parliamentary election Sunday, despite hopes that an orderly poll could propel the country towards opening European Union accession talks.Albanians voted in what was expected to be low numbers Sunday in a general election that was aimed at giving the country’s two biggest political parties a chance to look past their bitter differences and work toward eventually joining the European Union. “All our sources speak of a massive vote of the people in favor of the DP and our victory!” was the message of Lulzim Basha for democrat commissioners, reminding them of “the sacred duty to protect every vote that is counted”.A stance that Basha has even repeated during his media appearances.While their reliability is questionable, exit polls after voting closed at 8:00pm (1800 GMT) also showed Rama taking the lead – in line with pre-election opinion polls.Albanian Prime Minister and leader of the Socialist party Edi Rama casts his ballot at a polling station in Tirana outskirts Sunday, June 25, 2017.Neither party won an outright majority in the 140-seat parliament in the 2013 or 2009 elections.Both the main parties want to ditch the Socialist Integration Movement (SIM) of President-elect Ilir Meta, which has gained the role of kingmaker by propping up their respective governments for the last eight years.The Democrats have accused Rama of links to organised crime and turning the Balkan state into a “drugstore”, referring to Albania’s lucrative but illicit cannabis trade.All main parties campaigned on a reform agenda, pledging faster economic growth, pay hikes and lower unemployment, which stands at about 14 percent.The election commission extended Sunday’s voting period by an hour owing to poor participation on a day of soaring temperatures, while Rama took to Twitter and Facebook urging people to “vote, vote, vote”.Turnout fell to 47 per cent, or 6 points lower than in previous polls in 2013.But Sunday’s vote, which was seen as a test of democratic maturity as Albania seeks to open European Union accession negotiations, appeared to pass without major incidents.The vote is being closely watched by Albania’s European neighbors, keen for it to leave behind a history of election irregularities and violence.Meta’s party said in a statement that one of its members was “wounded in Shengjin, 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Tirana, in an armed incident outside a polling station”. Police said they were investigating but no one had been taken to hospital.Also the head of election body appealed to citizens to report any incident as well as asked the administrators of voting process to act according to the laws and electoral code.Albania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe and its unemployment rate affecting almost one in three young people has spurred the highest immigration levels in the world. They have not said whether they might rule together in coalition.