Last Update: 10:34
Prime Minister Edi RamaÎ„s Socialists garnered almost half the votes with one third of votes counted, according to the Central Elections CommissionÎ„s preliminary results. The opposition Democratic Party, meanwhile, appeared to have secured 28 percent of the votes.
Rama is keen to gain a majority so he can push through reforms aimed at smoothing the path for entry into the European Union - primarily a reform of the countryÎ„s corrupt judicial system. Election officials said the initial results point to 75 seats for the Socialists in the 140-seat parliament.
RamaÎ„s current junior coalition partner, the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), gathered about 19 percent of the vote. The party has been a kingmaker in Albanian politics for the past 10 years.
After polling closed at 8 p.m. local time, turnout was said to have been 47 percent compared with 53.5 four years ago. Preliminary election results are not expected until Monday.
Low turnout leads to more time to vote
The Central Election Commission decided to extend voting, with the low turnout being attributed to religious festivities and hot temperatures. The majority Muslim but secular country is celebrating Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Rama even took to Twitter and Facebook to post messages to encourage people to vote.
The opposition Democratic Party, led by Lulzim Basha, had threatened to boycott the vote until it was given assurances of greater oversight on election transparency and a postponement of the poll. The Democrats were also given key ministries ahead of the vote, and campaigning has been relatively low-key in a country where elections are usually bitterly contested.
Although the two party leaders have indulged in vitriolic personal attacks on each other, both agree on the need to prioritize EU accession.
Albania is already a NATO member and was granted EU candidate status in 2014.
Rama has vowed to open official EU accession talks by the end of the year, a goal that may be too ambitious. The European Commission has said the country has made progress but needs to improve in areas such as corruption, rule of law and the judiciary.
The nation of nearly three million people is one of EuropeÎ„s poorest countries, with high unemployment and poverty rates forcing more than a million people to emigrate mostly to EU countries.
cw/rc/jm (Reuters, AFP)