People in Albania are heading to the polls to cast their ballots in parliamentary elections in which both leading parties have pledged reforms needed for membership talks with the European Union (EU).
Polling stations opened across Albania at 0500 GMT on Sunday and will close at 1700 GMT. The voting is being monitored by 3,000 election observers, including more than 300 foreigners.
The Sunday vote pits the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama against the center-right Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha, with both candidates hoping to secure a majority to push through judicial reforms vital for accession to the EU.
Recent opinion polls show a double-digit lead for the socialists over the democrats, but it remains to be seen whether the Rama-led party could, for a second term, garner enough support to win an outright majority in the 140-seat parliament.
Opposition party leader Lulzim Basha addresses his supporters during a campaign rally two days ahead of the upcoming general elections in Tirana, Albania, June 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Regardless of the outcome of the Sunday elections, the two front-runner parties have already said they would jointly ask Brussels to grant the country EU membership.
The 52-year-old Rama has also pledged to improve property rights, boost economic development, and reduce national debt.
Basha, 43, launched his election campaign on a low-tax and anti-corruption platform, accusing the Socialist Party leader of having failed to fight drug trafficking and organized crime in the country.
“It is time we develop our economy, otherwise we will miss the chance. Our plan is similar to that of developed European countries. We would bring investments and put Albania to work,” Basha told supporters at his final rally in the Albanian capital, Tirana, on Friday.
The Southeastern European nation, home to 2.9 million people, is one of the poorest countries in Europe
, with an unemployment rate affecting nearly one in three young people and the highest emigration levels in the world.