Runoffs Boost Albania Socialists' Win

TIRANA, Albania -- Albania's ex-communist Socialists prepared on Monday to form a new government after sweeping to a landslide victory in elections called to end months of mayhem and bloodshed in Europe's poorest country.


With final official results still to come after Sunday's runoff vote in 34 districts, the Socialists appeared headed for a two-thirds majority in parliament over the right-wing Democratic Party of President Sali Berisha.


Berisha and the Democrats were widely blamed for tolerating shady pyramid savings schemes that swallowed the life savings of thousands of families and triggered upheaval.


The elections passed off relatively smoothly in a country that has battled with armed gangs for months, although ATA news agency reported two people were killed and two injured on Sunday when a man opened fire in a polling station in the Shkoder area in northern Albania.


A spokesman for the Central Election Commission said he had heard reports of several other violent incidents in districts where no candidate won a majority in the first round.


The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which deployed monitors for both rounds of voting, said Sunday it knew of no irregularities serious enough to jeopardize the poll.


The first major political casualty of the elections was Democratic Party chairman Tritan Shehu, who announced Monday he was stepping down after polling less than 30 percent in Sunday's runoff in Kavaje, near Tirana.


This appeared to open the way for Berisha to take over as party leader when he resigns or is voted out as president by the new parliament. He has already pledged to step down once a new government is in power.