Albania's governing Socialists far ahead in early vote count
Preliminary results show that Albania's left-wing Socialist party is heading for a new governing mandate in crucial elections in the country's bid to launch membership negotiations with the European Union.
The Central Election Commission's preliminary results after counting one-third of the votes on Monday morning show the Socialist party of Prime Minister Edi Rama winning almost half the votes compared with 28% for the opposition Democratic party of Lulzim Basha.
Election authorities said the partial count pointed to the Socialists winning at least 75 seats in the 140-member parliament.
Turnout fell to 47% - six points lower than in previous polls in 2013.
Holding a free and fair election is key to launching EU membership talks for the nation of 2.9 million, which is already a Nato member and earned EU candidate status in 2014.
Mr Rama posted on his Facebook page on Monday, wishing Albanians "a beautiful day with this still-unfinished masterpiece of this country's common people", referring to the expected significant difference in winning results.
Mr Basha spoke to reporters late on Sunday evening, thanking Albanians for voting "with a European dignity" in a religious day and under extreme hot temperatures.
The voting was extended by one hour due to low turnout that was attributed to religious festivities and temperatures that reached 39C (102F).
Albania, with a two-thirds Muslim majority, celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
International observers were expected to hold a news conference with a preliminary statement on Monday afternoon.