Socialist-led coalition wins three-fourths of mayoral elections in Albania, helping EU hopes

A coalition led by the governing Socialist Party has won three-fourths of mayoral elections in Albania, seen as a possible step toward improving its bid to launch membership negotiations with the European Union.

Erion Veliaj, a 35-year-old former social affairs minister, declared victory Tuesday in the race in the capital, Tirana. He defeated a candidate backed by incumbent Lulzim Basha of the opposition Democratic Party, who was not running again.

With 97 percent of votes counted from Sunday's mayoral elections, the Socialist-led coalition won 46 out of 61 races. The victories could help Albania overcome political squabbling that has hindered reforms needed to seek EU membership.

Reforms shrank the number of municipal elections from 373 to cut costs and boost local decision-making, putting Albania more in line with EU standards.