By Fjori Sinoruka
Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Albania produced no clear winner as exit polls suggested that the race between the rival ruling Socialist and opposition Democratic parties is too close to call.
An exit poll published by Euronews Albania said the Socialist Party looked set to win 68 to 72 of the 140 seats in parliament with the Democratic Party and the Alliance for Change projected to grab 60 to 64 seats. Their opposition partner, the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, is eyeing six to eight seats.
However, according to the Noto Exit Poll, the Democratic Party and the Alliance for Change are in the lead with 46 per cent of votes cast, ahead of the Socialist Party on 43 per cent. It said the LSI is projected to grab 6 per cent of votes.
According to Top Channel’s exit poll, conducted by Albania Post, the Socialist Party is set to grab 71 seats in parliament, with the Democratic Party due to win 63 and the LSI six seats.
Some 3.6 million eligible voters in Albania and abroad voted to elect 140 lawmakers for a four-year mandate.
This year’s election saw a larger turnout than during the previous general election, but the Central Election Commission, CEC, has yet to publish the final number of voters who cast ballots this year.
Albanians voted electronically for the first time, and in Tirana, 23,600 people cast their ballot electronically and will also have them counted online. On Sunday, technical incidents were recorded in144 voting stations at which some 80 operators left the voting station.Identification was conducted manually as a result.
After the polls closed, Prime Minister and Socialist Party leader Edi Rama, sounded cautious, saying: “Conjectures, polls and exit polls, despite them again giving us governing power, only belong to the pre-match predictions.” He added that, “the people have spoken and now they should be heard”.
Meanwhile, Lulzim Basha, head of the Democratic Party, appeared before his supporters at the party’s Tirana headquarters, sounding optimistic that they will be the final winners.
“Thank you to all Albanian citizens who chose change. This is a clear victory for the Albanian people and for the Alliance for Change,” Basha said.
“The people’s will is in the ballot boxes. I have full confidence that counters and commissioners will conclude this process with responsibility, patience and according to the law. As I have said at the beginning of the campaign, in the end, Albania wins,” Basha added.
Despite an election campaign marred by violence, including the murder of a local politician, only minor incidents were reported by police on polling day. Two people were arrested for “violation of the secrecy of the ballot” law after they were caught photographing their ballots, a move often associated with ballot buying.
A police officer was stabbed at a polling station in Fushe-Arrez, while another incident was reported in the town of Maliq in which a couple was attacked with a chair.
Immediately after the polls closed, the Commissioner of the CEC, Ilirja Celibashi, said the “political leadership must show restraint so that the commissioners and counters have the right climate to develop a secure and transparent counting process”.
During the day, US and EU ambassadors were also monitoring the voting in the field. “The United States does not support any particular party or candidate, but we support the right of the Albanian people to vote,” US ambassador Yuri Kim told journalists.
President Ilir Meta, who sided with the opposition, in his first address after the polls closed thanked voters for the election and said via Facebook that “Albania has won during this historic process”.
Meta said the biggest challenge now was “administration of the election process with integrity”, adding that commissioners and counters have “an extraordinary responsibility to finish the process in a dignified way”.
“Citizens should be calm and know that no vote can be distorted by anyone. Do not get influenced by the polls,” Meta said.
Traditionally, counting votes cast in Albanian elections can take days or weeks, because the ballots are not counted at polling stations. The CEC called on the parties to keep calm before the count starts.
Head Commissioner Ilirjan Celibashi told the media after the polls closed that CEC has taken measures to finish the counting the votes “within next 48 hours”.