Ruling party candidate declared winner of close Albanian vote
- The election for mayor of Albania's capital was closely watched as indicator of stability
- Official results show a ruling-party candidate ousted a three-term opposition chief
- The opposition says it will challenge the results
Tirana, Albania (CNN) -- Albanian authorities Monday declared a winner in a closely watched race for mayor of the Balkan nation's capital, finding a challenger from the ruling party ousted the veteran incumbent by a double-digit margin.
Results from Albania's Central Election Commission gave former Interior Minister Lulzim Basha an 81-vote edge over three-term Tirana Mayor Edi Rama out of nearly 250,000 ballots cast. Rama leads the opposition Socialist Party, while Basha was the candidate of the ruling Democratic Party.
Rama and his allies have raised claims of fraud, and the Socialists are expected to challenge the results through official channels and in the streets, said Fatmir Xhafa, a senior Socialist official.
"We are going into a dictatorship, and the protests against a dictatorship would be only the calmer part," Xhafa said.
Official challenges could drag out until July, said Leonard Olli, an election commission spokesman.
The vote was seen as an indicator of stability in Albania, long an isolated Stalinist enclave in southeastern Europe. The contest sparked protests in Tirana and other towns last week, when the electoral commission found Rama held a 10-vote lead.
Socialist supporters clashed with police outside the commission's headquarters and tried to force their way into the building, only to be pushed back by police.
Albania abandoned Communism in the 1990s, but its path to democracy has been bumpy. Past elections have been criticized as being neither free nor fair, and about 300 international monitors and observers were on hand for this year's vote -- a test of whether Albania was ready to join the European Union.
Rama has accused the ruling Democrats of corruption and demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Sal Berisha, whom the Socialists accuse of rigging the 2009 elections. Four people died in clashes with police outside Berisha's office in January, deaths that each side blamed on the other.