Albanians voted in parliamentary elections Sunday as the country looked to bolster its democratic credentials ahead of potential European Union membership talks.
The election commission extended voting period by an hour due to low turnout, while Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama took to Twitter and Facebook urging people to vote. So did the leader of the rival Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha who urged people on Facebook to go out to vote.
After polls closed, officials said preliminary turnout was just over 45 percent based on data from more than half of the polling stations, compared to 53.5 percent four years ago. The results are not expected until late Monday.
Eighteen political parties competed for 140 seats in Albania’s parliament. Exit polls, including one conducted by Italy's IPR Marketing showed, the Socialists slightly ahead of the center-right Democratic Party, but it was not clear whether the Socialists won an outright majority of 71 seats to be able to form the new government on their own.
All main parties of the NATO-member country of 2.9 million eligible voters, campaigned on a reform agenda, pledging faster economic growth, pay increases and lower unemployment, which currently stands at about 14 percent.
Albania gained EU candidate status in 2014, but movement has been slowed by its perceived lack of reforms, including those involved with the election process.
Some 6,000 police officers were on duty for election security, while more 300 international observers came to monitor the vote.