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Electoral reform deal between the big parties is warmly greeted by the international community - but smaller parties and civil society groups are unimpressed, calling it a stitch-up.
|Oppostion supporters protesting in front of Central Electoral Commision in May 2011 | Photo : AP|
Albania's parliament voted on Thursday - with 127 votes in favour and two against - to reform the electoral code, paving the way for the next spring’s parliamentary elections.
The reform was backed by Albania’s main political parties, both the ruling Democrats and the opposition Socialists.
Speaking in parliament during the vote, Prime Minister Sali Berisha praised the bill as the result of consensus between the main political parties.
“With this law we are all winners,” Berisha said, adding that the bill “addresses a series of problems that had come to the fore in the past two electoral contests".
However, the reform was contested by some of the smaller parliamentary parties, which had sought a correction of Albania’s regional proportional electoral system.
“This is the sixteenth electoral reform in Albania [in two decades] and the sixteenth agreement between the Democrats and Socialist to create an election monopoly,” lamented the head of the Republican Party, Fatmir Mediu, a junior partner in Berisha’s cabinet.
Albania has suffered a long and tumultuous transition to democracy since it emerged from the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha in 1991.
No elections held since the collapse of the regime have met international standards and allegations of fraud and disputed results have been widespread.
The approval by parliament of the new code was heralded by the EU, the US and the OSCE as a step forward.
“Both the ruling majority and the opposition should be commended for the good work completed and for constructive cooperation in this area,” Peter Stano, the spokesperson of Stefan Fule, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, said.
“Reaching this important agreement constitutes a very significant step forward in the completion of the November 2011 political agreement and towards meeting a key priority [for EU candidate status],” he added.
The head of the OSCE Presence in Albania, Eugen Wollfarth, underlined the need for sustained political will in ensuring full implementation of the new legislation.
"The adoption of the new electoral code, following a thorough process involving comprehensive negotiations, is a big step for Albania on its path towards further democratization," he said.
"Even with the improved Electoral Code, political will is an indispensible element of implementing the Electoral Code, developing trust at all levels - between voters, commissioners, and politicians - and fostering an atmosphere of fairness and playing by the rules,” Wollfarth added
However, some local experts are unimpressed with the praise of the international community, arguing that the deal is a reform in name only, not in substance, and will not guarantee higher election standards than those shown in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
“The internationals seem to have a hard time leaving behind their approach, which for years has given priority to political stability,” said Gjergji Vurmo, an analyst at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation, a Tirana-based think tank.
Vurmo described the electoral deal is a "déjà vu" of the 2008 amendments to the constitution, agreed between the Socialist and Democrats, which lacked a broad consensus and which some said had a negative effect on the system of check and balances.
“The two big parties monopolized the debate on changes to the electoral code and above all protected their political interests by not addressing the concerns of small parties and civil society,” Vurmo said.
“The praise that the international community is giving to the consensus on the so-called reform, which is actually little more than make-up, is disappointing,” he concluded.
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