Albania’s election heads for deadlock

Albania’s general election appeared headed for deadlock on Wednesday, with both the governing right-of-centre Democratic party and the opposition Socialists unable to win an outright majority in the 140-seat parliament.

A long drawn-out counting process after Sunday’s vote went into its fourth day on Wednesday amid mounting tension over possible last-minute attempts at fraud.

With more than 98 per cent of the vote counted, the Democrats had secured 68 seats to 65 for the Socialists under a regional proportional electoral system being used for the first time.

Three seats could still change hands after the last 100 ballot boxes were counted, analysts said.

“Otherwise, we’re looking at a 70-70 split in parliament taking into consideration the likely alliances,” said Bledar Meniku of ECA, an independent US-backed election monitoring system.

A tied outcome could result in another general election being held later this year and the postponement of key policy decisions.

Albania had been expected to follow the example of Serbia and Romania after the election and seek a stand-by loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The Democratic party, which has clung to a narrow lead since Sunday, is supported by the Republican party with one seat and a small party representing the Cham minority, also with one seat.

The Socialists could team up with the Socialist Movement for Integration, headed by a former Socialist prime minister, which won four seats, and the Human Rights party, representing Albania’s Greek minority, with one seat.

After a mostly incident-free count at 66 electoral centres around the country, accusations of ballot box manipulation started to fly on Tuesday night.

The Socialists refused to accept results in the northern region of Shkodra, a Democratic stronghold, after one ballot box was found to contain 400 votes for the Democratic candidate and none for any other party.

Remaining ballot boxes from the central town of Lac were taken to Tirana to be counted after a scuffle broke out between Socialist and Democratic officials.

Counting the vote has already taken 36 hours longer than forecast because of a new system of scanning each vote and displaying it on a screen to be checked by observers and party officials.

The system was designed to prevent ballot box stuffing and fraud, both frequent practices at previous Albanian elections. The country has not yet held an election that meets international standards.

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