TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s parliament on Monday approved electoral law changes designed to prevent vote manipulation, which is a key condition for the country to start negotiations to join the European Union.
Lawmakers present in the 140-seat house voted 97-15 in favor of the amendments and five abstained. They also selected new officials at the country’s top electoral commission.
Changes include a 1% threshold for political parties to enter parliament. The new electoral code will apply from next year’s scheduled April 25 parliamentary election.
Post-communist Albania’s elections have always been contested and marred by irregularities, including alleged vote-buying and manipulation of ballot counts.
The electoral reform followed recommendations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has monitored the country’s elections.
Albania’s parliament is now dominated by the left-wing Socialist Party.
The main center-right opposition, which boycotted parliament last year, criticized the new electoral code.
Earlier this year, the EU gave the green light for Albania and North Macedonia to start full membership negotiations, but the bloc has yet to set a date for the talks.
Both U.S. and EU, which were directly involved in a June 5 political agreement on constitutional amendments related to the electoral code, deplored that the ruling Socialists passed the laws without continuing the consultation with the out-of-parliament opposition.
The statement of the EU Delegation to Albania considered the laws “unrelated to the implementation of the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations on electoral reform as referred to in the March Council Conclusions.”
“It is regrettable that the majority failed to honor its own stated commitment to seek common ground,” a U.S. Embassy statement said, adding that as a NATO member, aspirant to the EU and OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office, “Albania’s leaders … (need) to hold themselves to a higher standard and to ensure the freedom and fairness of the upcoming elections.”