TIRANA, Albania -- Albanians chose a Parliament yesterday in elections seen as a key test of the Balkan country's post-communist rule as it pushes for membership in NATO and closer ties with the European Union.
Both Prime Minister Fatos Nano and opposition leader Sali Berisha, a former president, have emphasized that the election is an opportunity to show the world how far Albania's democracy has come.
Official results were expected today. But in the country's first-ever exit poll -- a survey of 15 of 100 electoral districts -- Berisha's Democratic Party led in 11 districts with Nano's Socialists ahead in four, the private TV Klan station reported.
Previous elections in Albania, which had been sealed off from the world during decades of communist rule, have been plagued by fraud and irregularities. This time, NATO and the European Union warned Albanian authorities that only free and fair elections would further the country's bid for membership.
But police said an election official at a polling station was shot in the capital, Tirana, and died later in a hospital.
Both the Socialists and Democrats support close ties with Washington and Albanian troop deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia. Both also support integration in NATO and the EU.
A key difference is the Democratic Party's proposal to cut taxes in half to promote investment, an idea the Socialists reject. Preelection polls indicated that the two parties were in a tight race.
Some 2.8 million Albanians were eligible to vote, choosing among 22 political parties and coalitions running for the 140-seat Parliament.