Albanians are voting in a closely-fought election that could determine whether the country eventually joins the European Union and NATO. The president has told voters that the greatest outcome of the poll would be to prove the country can hold a free and fair election, regardless of who wins. Eve-of-election surveys suggest that with 34 per cent of the likely vote, the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Fatos Nano is just one percentage point behind his main rival, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, ex-President Sali Berisha. The two groups have dominated Albanian politics since the fall of communism, 14 years ago.For the first time the vote is expected to be split with the arrival of a third party. The newly-formed Socialist Movement for Integration is led by ex-Prime Minister Ilir Meta, who broke away from the Socialists a year ago. Some 400 international and 3,500 local observers are watching the vote. Since 1991, Albanian elections have been plagued by claims of fraud, rigging and protests. Some 2.8 million people will elect 140 members of parliament, 100 of whom will be chosen for the first time directly in a first-past-the-post system. Albania’s journey to democracy was dealt a severe blow in 1997 when the government failed to rein in pyramid saving schemes that bankrupted many people. The EU has made it clear to Tirana it wants to see election standards met before it signs an agreement which could lead to eventual European membership.
Albania looks for clean poll to break with tradition