Albanians have been voting in local elections described as a referendum on the national government’s record – and a key test for possible future EU membership.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha said meeting EU election standards was essential for Albania’s progress towards joining the bloc.
It follows a violent campaign during which some candidates were beaten up or bombed.
The country is finding it hard to pull out of the Communist era – but some voters are optimistic.
“Long live Albania, long live democracy, prosperity for the youth,” said one elderly man with a flourish as he cast his ballot.
The governing conservatives narrowly won a second four-year term in 2009 but the opposition refused to accept the result, alleging corruption and vote-rigging.
Socialist leader Edi Rama, now seeking re-election as mayor of Tirana, claimed Berisha had stolen the vote.
Albanian politics has been largely paralysed ever since. The ensuing crises saw a boycott of parliament and hunger strikes.
The EU – due to send a team to Albania later in May – has told the country’s feuding parties they must negotiate to end the row over the 2009 election that is holding up legislation.
In January anti-government protests turned violent and four protesters were shot dead by the Republican Guard.
It is hoped that this vote can break the stalemate. The first results are expected on Monday.