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Albania, elections, after NATO Tirana looks to EU

Albania, elections, after NATO Tirana looks to EU

Tirana, June 27 NOA/ANSA - After NATO, Albania is looking at the European Union, which has played a key role in the electoral campaign for Sunday's general election.

The election are to be held amidst tension generated by the fact that police authorities prevented the socialist opposition led by Tirana's current mayor, Edi Rama, from holding a rally in the capital city's main street in front of the government offices of premier Sali Berisha, the traditional right wing leader.

Europe was the focus of political rallies and Berisha repeatedly stated that in his four years of government he has signed the Stabilisation and Association agreement with the EU and then requested admission in April, when the country joined NATO.

The premier's new promise is that ''In 2013 the country will be ready to become a member'' of the EU.

His rival did not mention any timeframes. Rama, age 44, believes that ''it is time to open a new chapter, give way to a new era that will allow Albanians to crown the dream they had in 1992'', when the people toppled the old communist regime.

Albanians see joining Europe as a means to travel without the need for visas. Brussels has already started this process with a few west Balkan countries, but Albania failed to complete this process immediately, unlike Macedonia and probably Serbia and Montenegro as well, who could benefit from a visa-less regime from the end of this year. But determination is not enough.

Brussels is clear: the June 28 political elections will be ''the test of the country's democratic maturity and its aspirations to join the EU''.

Sunday's elections will be monitored by more that 400 international observers working with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), in addition to approximately 2,500 local observers.

To date, in 18 years of pluralism, Albania has never managed to meet the required international standards. Berisha predicted that ''This time we will set up the best elections our country have ever seen''.

Rama, the socialist leader, is more sceptical: ''We shall see what happens on Sunday, but we have every reason to claim that this is not the process that the Albanian people deserve''.

The left wing opposition reported irregularities in voting lists and pointed out that 256,000 of the more than 3 million-strong Albanian electorate will not be able to vote because of the lack of one of two necessary documents: passport and ID.

Albania is using a new election system, a proportional regional system that will apportion the 140 seats of the Albanian parliament.