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[ALBSA-Info] Albanian Elections Test Democracy

Gazhebo at Gazhebo at
Sun Jun 24 21:40:40 EDT 2001

Albanian Elections Test Democracy

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Gunfire broke out at one polling station and 
assailants burned ballots at another, marring parliamentary elections Sunday 
that pitted Albania's incumbent Socialists against a center-right coalition 
led by firebrand former President Sali Berisha. 

The violence, which came despite appeals for calm from international 
officials, reflected the political tensions that have accompanied Albanian 
elections since the end of communist rule in 1992 and the intense rivalry 
between the two main political forces. 

A shooting outside a polling place in the capital, Tirana, left two people 
wounded, including a member of Berisha's opposition Unity for Victory 
coalition, Gjergj Bushgjoka, who was shot in the leg, the Interior Ministry 
said. Another person was grazed in the head by a bullet. 

Police said one of two gunmen was detained. From his home, Bushgjoka said one 
of the assailants was a Socialist Party bodyguard and that the two started 
shooting after he tried to stop them from beating a voter. 

In a separate incident, gunmen broke into a polling station in Shllak, a 
village 120 miles north of Tirana, and burned all the ballots, ballot boxes 
and voter lists, police said. 

Procedural disputes between the Socialists and Berisha's faction kept 10 
polling stations closed in the town of Lushnja and five stations elsewhere, 
meaning balloting would have to be rescheduled for about 30,000 people. 

The delay meant that even partial official results could be delayed until 
after the new votes, possibly on July 1. 

Socialist party officials announced after polls closed that both Prime 
Minister Ilir Meta and party leader Fatos Nano had won over 60 percent of the 
votes in their constituencies. 

Nearly 2.5 million Albanians were eligible to cast ballots for 140 lawmakers 
among about 1,600 candidates from 38 political parties and coalitions. 

The Central Electoral Commission reported turnout at about 60 percent. Its 
head, Ilirian Celibashi, called the voting generally ``free and fair.'' 

The Socialists and 31-year-old Prime Minister Ilir Meta, were expected to be 
re-elected by voters seeking continued stability and further economic 
improvement after several years of post-communist chaos. 

``All we need is stability, public order, new roads and a little bit more 
water,'' said Myzejen Metani, 65, after casting her ballot in Mullet, a 
village 7 miles from Tirana. 

Opinion polls were not conducted. 

Berisha is known for his inflammatory rhetoric, and he accused the Socialists 
of planning to rig the vote. ``Officers of the secret service have already 
started to fill up the ballots,'' he said late Saturday. 

Both the Socialist Party and the Central Election Commission denied the 

The Socialist Party came to power in June 1997, after winning elections 
called to end months of widespread unrest sparked by the collapse of 
fraudulent financial schemes in which most Albanians had invested. 

The International Monetary Fund has praised Albania, one of Europe's poorest 
countries, for fostering recent economic growth and holding down inflation. 
However, the government is challenged by widespread corruption and illegal 
trafficking in women, weapons and drugs. 

Western governments have also praised Albania for its handling of the refugee 
crisis in Kosovo in 1999, when it took in about half a million refugees and 
offered its ports and airports for NATO military operations during the air 
campaign against Yugoslavia. 

The vote was monitored by 2,000 Albanian and foreign observers. 

One hundred members of parliament were to be directly elected, with the 
remaining 40 seats filled through a proportional system designed to give 
smaller parties a voice. 

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