TIRANA : Albania’s opposition Socialist Party was ahead in weekend polls, early results showed Monday, and its leader Edi Rama urged outgoing conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha to concede defeat.

“I have a message for our opponents. There is always a moment to admit defeat,” Rama told reporters.

“Today is the first day of our renaissance and we should behave as the political force that will renew Albania. I confirm to you today that the victory is even bigger than it seemed to be yesterday,” Rama said.

Having counted 24 percent of ballots, the electoral commission said the opposition was ahead in several regions, including the capital Tirana.

According to the Socialist Party’s projection, the opposition could win 84 out of 140 seats in the parliament.

The ruling coalition, led by Berisha’s Democratic Party, again claimed victory as they had already done right after the close of polling stations on Sunday evening.

“We are starting to climb in the results. We are going to win,” said Gert Bogdani, an official from Berisha’s coalition.

The Sunday polls were closely followed by the European Union, which has twice rejected Tirana’s membership applications. Brussels has said the vote “represent a crucial test for the country’s democratic institutions and its progress towards the European Union.”

The complete official preliminary results were expected no later than 72 hours after the polls closed, as mandated by the law.

Both sides have been accusing each other of vote-buying and electoral roll irregularities, raising concerns there could be a repeat of the 2009 polls which triggered months of political turmoil and government paralysis.

The polls have already been marred by Sunday’s killing of an opposition activist in the town of Lac, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Tirana.

Seven people were arrested after the incident in which three more people, including a candidate of Berisha’s party, were wounded.

During the campaign, Berisha, the 69-year old cardiologist who has dominated the political scene in Albania for more than 20 years, but also his main rival Rama, 49, a Paris-schooled painter and former Tirana mayor, vowed to bring the country into the EU.

Both Rama and Berisha have also pledged to improve living standards in the country where many, especially in the poor mountainous north, depend heavily on financial aid sent by an estimated 1.5 million countrymen living in Western Europe and the United States.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which deployed more than 600 observers to monitor the elections, was expected to present its report on the polls later Monday.