Albania opposition angry with election recount

TIRANA, Albania

Albania’s opposition Socialists accused the governing party on Monday of interfering with a recount of some ballots from last month’s general election in an effort to win more seats in parliament.

State election officials say the governing Democrats and an allied party won the June 28 election with 46.69 percent of the vote, giving them a projected 71 seats in the 140-seat parliament-the minimum number needed to form a government

The Socialists have said Prime Minister Sali Berisha must not be allowed to declare victory until the recount is finished.

On Monday, Socialist leader Edi Rama claimed the Democrats are interfering with the recount, an allegation the government denied.

The dispute comes as Albania is seeking to improve its election standards and to gain eventual membership in the European Union. Albania, which joined NATO in April, has been under intense international pressure to ensure the vote was free of the kind of fraud that marred the first six elections held after the Balkan country’s communist regime fell in 1990.

International monitors have said the June 28 election showed improvements, but they cited a need for further progress to comply with international standards.

Albania’s election commission is still recounting ballots from 49 of the country’s 4,753 polling stations following complaints of irregularities. The recounts must be completed before parliamentary seats can be officially allocated.

Election officials say the final results, with the recounts completed, could still take several days.

Rama accused the Democrats on Monday of being behind the delays in the vote recount in the southwest Albanian city of Fier in an effort to claim a contested seat in Parliament.

“This is not an issue of numbers but of a basic principle of democracy,” Rama said at a news conference. “We will make it impossible for the government to grab votes with such tactics.”

The Socialists also have threatened to hold street protests.

Prime Minister Berisha will remain in power until the order for a new mandate is given by the country’s president, based on the final election results. Berisha and the third-place finisher-the SMI party with four parliamentary seats-have agreed to form a coalition and to make Albania’s eventual European Union membership a priority.

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