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Rural Vote Key to Albanian Election With PM-Albania-Election

March 23, 1992

KUCOVA, Albania (AP) _ A year ago, this bleak industrial town that until recently was named for Josef Stalin voted overwhelmingly Communist. On Sunday, youths hung around polls menacing anyone who might want to vote that way again.

Just three miles down a dirt road, in the village of Perondi, it’s a different world. The Communists - who have renamed themselves Socialists - stand for progress rather than poverty and hopelessness.

Attitudes in the two villages show how a year of poverty and chaos can change things.

Last year, the Communists swept the countryside in Albania’s first multiparty elections since before World War II, capturing a two-thirds majority in parliament. They were forced to share power after widespread discontent, and a subsequent coalition government fell.

But this year, the opposition Democrats worked the countryside hard and their efforts, fueled by public discontent, appeared to pay off.

Initial returns showed the Democrats winning a landslide victory.

Some 65 percent of Albania’s 3.2 million people live in the countryside, so the rural vote was key.

Kucova, known as Stalin City under the Communists, was a major electoral battleground, where each side accused the other of dirty politics and intimidation.

In the grim streets, where rusting oil pumps and a network of blackened overhead pipelines compete with piles of rubble, the only visible signs of an election were graffiti and posters supporting the Democrats.

Jovan Bushamuku, a 34-year-old worker and local Socialist official, said his party’s campaign posters were torn down and that Democrats prevented Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano from speaking at a rally.

On Sunday, gangs of youths hung around polling stations, shouting at prospective Socialist voters.

Democrats had their complaints, too. Hamza Barxha, a 28-year-old engineer, charged that explosives were thrown into the house of a leading local Democrat.

″Politics here is dividing families,″ said Gregory Naska, a 30-year-old English teacher. ″None of the youth here want the Socialists in power. They do not believe they are reformed, whatever they say.″

In Perondi, women wearing mud-splattered black dresses and men in worn suits wearing traditional white skull caps arrived to vote on foot, by cart and by mule.

In Kucova, no one would openly admit to having voted Socialist. In Perondi, some men shouted their allegiance to socialism.

Arriving on a 25-year-old Chinese bicycle, veteranarian Fatmir Iliazi said the villagers would vote Socialist ″because they are the only party interested in the poor.″

Naska argued that the peasant vote was based on tradition rather than politics.

″Everything to them is tradition, so anything new scares them,″ he said. ″They know in their hearts that the marriage is over, but they cannot bring themselves to get divorced.″

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