Albania's Socialists Secure Governing Mandate In Parliamentary Vote

Albania's left-wing Socialist Party secured a second governing mandate in the June 25 parliamentary elections, winning a majority of seats in parliament, nearly complete results show.

The election is seen as a key benchmark to the country's bid to launch membership negotiations with the European Union.

With more than 95 percent of the ballots counted, the Socialists of Prime Minister Edi Rama won about 48 percent of the votes, or 74 places in the 140-seat parliament, the Central Election Commission said on June 27.

The opposition Democratic party of Lulzim Basha won 29 percent, or 43 seats.

The Socialist Movement for Integration, or LSI, the Socialists' partners in the previous government, is third with 19 seats.

Rama's Socialists, who now can govern alone, have become increasingly at odds with the LSI and its former leader, ex-Prime Minister Ilir Meta, who is now president-elect after being voted to the mostly ceremonial position by parliament.

Turnout in the election fell to 46.6 percent, seven points lower than in 2013.

“International observers witnessed incidents of vote buying, photographing of ballots, and intimidation of voters,” the U.S. Embassy in Tirana said in a statement. “Elections officials and law enforcement responded to many of these complaints resulting in some arrests.

“While some electoral violations witnessed were serious and should be addressed, they were not so widespread as to change the overall outcome of the elections,” it also said in a statement.

EUs foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU enlargement chief Johannes Hahn urged the new government to continue the reform process.

"The continuation of the justice reform and the fight against drug trafficking and cultivation will be of particular importance in this respect," Mogherini and Hahn said in a joint statement.

The governing Socialists agreed last month to give the opposition Democrats a greater role in oversight on election transparency.

Both parties have pledged to work together toward eventually joining the EU.

Rama has also promised that his new government would tackle corruption and drug trafficking, speed up economic growth, raise salaries, and lower unemployment.

The nation of 2.9 million, a NATO member since 2009, received EU candidate status in 2014.

With reporting by, AP, Reuters, and AFP