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June 26, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Preliminary results show that Albania’s left-wing Socialist Party appeared headed for a new governing mandate in crucial elections in the country’s bid to launch membership negotiations with the European Union.

The Central Election Commission’s preliminary results after counting one-third of the votes Monday morning show the Socialist party of Prime Minister Edi Rama winning almost half the votes compared to 28 percent of the opposition Democratic party of Lulzim Basha.

Election authorities said the partial count pointed to the Socialists winning at least 75 seats in the 140-member parliament. Turnout fell to 47 percent, or 6 points lower than in previous polls in 2013.

Holding a free and fair election is key to launching EU membership talks for the nation of 2.9 million, which is already a NATO member and that earned EU candidate status in 2014. Rama wrote on Monday in his Facebook page wishing Albanians “a beautiful day with this still-unfinished masterpiece of this country’s common people,” referring to the expected significant difference in winning results.

Basha spoke to reporters late Sunday evening thanking Albanians for voting “with a European dignity” in a religious day and under extreme hot temperature. The voting was extended by one hour due to low turnout that was attributed to religious festivities and temperatures that reached 39 degrees (102 Fahrenheit.)

Albania with a two-third Muslim majority celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. International observers are expected to hold a news conference with a preliminary statement in the afternoon.

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