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Socialist-led coalition wins town hall elections in Albania

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — A coalition led by the governing Socialist Party has won three-fourths of mayoral elections in Albania, seen as a possible step toward improving its bid to launch membership negotiations with the European Union.

Erion Veliaj, a 35-year-old former social affairs minister, declared victory Tuesday in the race in the capital, Tirana. He defeated a candidate backed by incumbent Lulzim Basha of the opposition Democratic Party, who was not running again.

“Instead of celebrating, let’s pull up our sleeves” and take the city in the right direction, Veliaj told supporters.

With 97 percent of votes counted from Sunday’s mayoral elections, the Socialist-led coalition won 46 out of 61 races. The victories could help Albania overcome political squabbling that has hindered reforms needed to seek EU membership.

International observers noted no major irregularities in the election. They said, however, that the electoral process was damaged by harsh language and the involvement of national politicians in local campaigns, adding that the legal framework and the central election authority management need to be improved.

The Democrats have accused the government of pressuring voters during the electoral process.

In his first appearance since Sunday, Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama said the June 21 elections were the best the post-communist country has had so far, but acknowledged the shortcomings noted by the international observers and pledged to improve.

Reforms shrank the number of municipal elections from 373 to cut costs and boost local decision-making, putting Albania more in line with EU standards.

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