TIRANA, Albania – Political campaigning stopped in Albania Saturday, a day before parliamentary elections which are considered a crucial test for its ambitions for closer ties and eventual membership in the European Union.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha, 68, is seeking a third term but faces a strong challenge from Socialist leader Edi Rama, 48.
Both pledge to improve the people's lives, fight corruption and crime and take one of Europe's poorest countries into the European Union, which is pressing for broader democratic reforms and an improved election record.
As required by law, on Saturday political parties ceased their one-month campaign.
President Bujar Nishani urged everyone entitled to vote "to understand the main thing: that parties and ideologies which we vote for are some, while Albania and its future is just one."
The monthlong election contest has been relatively calm, unlike past elections that were frequently marred by violence, vote-rigging and intimidation. However, there have been reports of civil servants and even school children being pressured to attend pro-government rallies.
A western diplomat in Tirana, speaking on condition of anonymity to be politically impartial ahead of the polls, said they had seen "definite signs of coercion by authorities," adding they "need clarity, openness and transparency to build trust among the people."
On Sunday some 3.3 million eligible voters will chose in a regional proportional system among more than 6,900 candidates from 66 political parties who run for 140 parliamentary seats.
Some 400 international observers and more than 8,000 local ones will monitor the polls.
Voting opens at 7 a.m. local time (0900 GMT) Sunday and ends at 7 p.m. It is uncertain when results would be announced.