TIRANA, Albania (AP) - After a bitter campaign, the two main adversaries in parliamentary elections Sunday in Albania can agree on one thing: flawed polls would hurt this Balkan nation's dreams of closer ties with the West.
Previous elections in Albania -- sealed off from the world during decades of Communist rule -- have been plagued by fraud and irregularities. Losers have never conceded defeat, badly stalling development in this country of 3.2 million people, among Europe's poorest.
Both Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano and his main rival Sali Berisha, a former president and leader of the Democratic Party, are stressing that Sunday's election is a chance to show the world Albania's democracy has come a long way since the fall of communism in 1990.
"I wouldn't want an election victory that doesn't match the standards of democratic countries," said Nano, who draws support mainly in the agricultural south.
Berisha, popular in the poorer, mountainous north, also described the polls as "historic and vital."
Free and fair polls are a key condition for eventual NATO membership and a closer relationship with the European Union. About 500 international observers and some 4,000 local ones will monitor the election.
President Alfred Moisiu, who holds a largely ceremonial post, tried to calm the political atmosphere by persuading the 16 largest political groupings to sign a code of election ethics.
In a renewed call for fair elections Friday, Moisiu said "more important than the results are meeting the elections standards."
Finn Theilgaard, Danish Charge d'Affaires in Tirana, said the elections "are a golden opportunity for Albania to show their standards are close to those of the EU."
"What the EU is interested in is the process. Everybody agrees Albania has a place at the European joint table of decisions. If the process goes wrong, that's bad news for this dream."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Albania has improved in election organization and the quality of political campaigning.
Opinion polls show Nano and Berisha to be running neck-and-neck, and neither will likely be able to form a government without the support of smaller parties.
Both men have similar platforms on integration with the West and the status of Kosovo, which has been administered by the United Nations following NATO's military intervention aimed at stopping a Serbian crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.
A key difference is the Democratic Party proposal to cut taxes in half to promote investment, an idea the Socialists reject as irrational.
The Socialist Movement for Integration party, likely to claim third place, could have an important post-election role. Former prime minister Ilir Meta broke away from the Socialists to found the party a year ago.
Some 2.8 million Albanians are registered to vote in the July 3 election to elect 100 parliamentary seats directly through constituency voting. The remaining 40 seats will be allocated through proportional representation.