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TIRANA, Albania – Albania holds parliamentary elections Sunday, a poll that will gauge the country's readiness to start European Union membership talks. The three leading parties held unusually subdued campaigns, with the two main contenders burying decades of confrontational rivalry as new disputes opened up.
Here's a look at the leading candidates.
URBAN RENAISSANCE MAN
As mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama made his name as the man who updated the drab, communist-era look of the Albanian capital. Now he's seeking a second term as prime minister with the Socialist Party following a first term marked by further economic development and improvements to city centers around the country.
Rama, 52, is promising more: Setting an annual growth target of more than 5 percent, from the current 3.5 percent, while reducing the national debt from 71 percent of gross domestic product to the low 60s.
The Socialists say they can boast about the success of their reforms in the energy sector and agriculture, and are seeking a strong mandate to advance a modernizing agenda focused on corruption and judicial reform.
Emulating Rama's rise, opposition leader Lulzim Basha also served as mayor of Tirana before becoming a topflight contender.
Basha heads the center-right Democratic Party, succeeding the veteran Sali Berisha after his defeat in the last general election. At just 43, Basha already has considerable cabinet experience and ran his election campaign on a low-tax and anti-corruption platform.
He accuses the Rama government of failing to fight the country's major drug trafficking problem, and even of having links to organized crime.
The Democrats are promising a 9-percent flat tax, free school meals and a revamped health system, in a manifesto they argue will reduce social inequality.
Ilir Meta isn't running in the 2017 elections, but he's been the face of the center-left Socialist Movement for Integration, or LSI, during the campaign.
Meta, a former prime minister and veteran of post-Communist politics at age 48, has been elected the country's next president after twice acting as kingmaker in coalition governments — once for the Democrats then for the rival Socialists.
LSI leadership has passed to the lesser known Petrit Vasili, a former health minister. Both main contenders in Sunday's poll have vowed not to form a coalition with his party.
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