Sunday's elections were marked by several irregularities, but without damage to the overall voting process.
By Erlis Selimaj for Southeast European Times in Tirana – 19/02/07
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha casts his ballot at a polling station in Tirana on Sunday (February 18th). [Getty Images]
Albanians went to the polls on Sunday to elect new local representatives. The country's 2.9 million voters were asked to choose mayors and councillors from more than 1,700 candidates. The turnout was approximately 47%.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) announced several irregularities that stemmed from insufficient time to distribute the election materials and a lack of information by several local commissioners regarding the voting procedures.
Both the government and opposition agreed that allegations of vote rigging were not serious enough to affect the outcome.
Other problems appeared after the polls were supposed to close at 6 pm. In Tirana, there were a dozen polling stations that stayed open until 8 pm. Elsewhere, scattered polls stayed open late to handle the influx of the voters.
Voting was monitored by 4,500 foreign and local observers amid tight police security.
Greek observers have expressed concern regarding the "non-conformity of procedure" in the southwestern town of Himara, whose outgoing mayor, Vassilis Bolanos, represents the Greek minority. However, the main political parties say they are happy with the overall conduct of the election.
"There were no incidents which could affect the results of the elections. The poll proceeded normally," said ruling Democratic Party (DP) official Majlinda Bregu.
"The DP is leading in the local elections, in many of the municipalities of the country. I’d urge opposition leader Edi Rama to accept the result as DP is winning," Bregu told journalists at a press conference Monday.
But SP spokeswoman Mimi Kodheli disagreed. "We deny the DP declarations that it is leading in some of the municipalities. Instead SP is taking the lead in many municipalities and communes."
The local election commissions are counting the votes before they hand in the results to the CEC in Tirana, which will announce the official results.
President Alfred Moisiu, Prime Minister Sali Berisha, SP leader Rama and his rival in the Tirana mayoral race, Sokol Olldashi, voted on Sunday and urged others to do the same. "Albanians with their free vote will show that Albania is a country which is willing to reach the democratic standards. I urge the parties to recognise the results of these elections, because their standards are more important than the victory," Moisiu said.
The elections are crucial for Albania, which signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Brussels in June 2006, seen as the first step to EU membership. Albania hopes to join NATO later this year.