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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 20:32 GMT 21:32 UK
Poor turnout at Albania polls
Election poster on wrecked car in Vuno, Albania
Few Albanians have faith in their leaders
Albanians have been voting in local elections - a ballot seen as a referendum on the Socialist government which has lately been riven by splits.

Turnout was barely 50% as polling stations closed for the elections to town and city councils.

The BBC's Nicholas Wood reports from Tirana that local government has had little impact on people's lives since the fall of the Communist regime.

But leaders stressed that Albania's image as a democracy was at stake.

When most of the polling stations closed at 1900 (1700 GMT), turnout was about 49%, the central electoral commission said.

In the capital, stations stayed open an hour later after crowds were spotted forming outside some of them.

Earlier, President Alfred Moisiu had urged his fellow citizens to turn out, saying the country's image in the West depended on being able to hold a free and fair election.

"Organising free and fair elections is more important than the result itself," Prime Minister Fatos Nano added.

Electoral gloom

In some regions, villagers boycotted the polls, saying they were pointless, our correspondent reports.

Local councils have been unable to make much impact on the problems which plague people's daily lives.

Local infrastructure is extremely poor. Roads go unrepaired and power cuts and water shortages are a frequent occurrence.

Forty-nine parties took part in the vote but the two main contenders were the Socialist and Democratic parties.

Government split

Local analysts say the Socialist town councils may lose ground to the Democrats as a bitter feud divides the ruling Socialist government.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha casts his vote
The opposition sees a chance to take back power
Prime Minister Nano is at odds with his former Foreign Minister, Ilir Meta.

Mr Meta resigned in July and has accused the prime minister of failing to tackle rampant corruption in the country. He also wants him to speed up economic reforms.

Democratic leader Sali Berisha has exploited the split by claiming his party will clamp down on corruption.

Mr Berisha was himself president during a pyramid banking scandal which saw Albania descend into chaos in 1997.

A foreign peacekeeping force was deployed to re-establish law and order.

If the Socialists do badly at the polls, local experts say that could cost Mr Nano his job as party leader.

The government may be forced to hold early parliamentary elections.


SEE ALSO:
Albania tries image makeover
18 Aug 02  |  Europe
Country profile: Albania
26 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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