TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian lawmakers approved constitutional amendments Thursday to hold elections with open lists of candidates and pre-formed party coalitions, part of electoral reforms that are considered a key condition to the country starting negotiations to join the European Union.
The Western Balkan nation's 140-seat parliament voted 106-10 in favor of the amendments, which required a two-thirds majority or 94 votes to pass. The changes were proposed and supported by a group of opposition lawmakers who took office after the main center-right opposition boycotted parliament last year.
The parties that boycotted parliament, which are considered the main political opposition, favored Albania's existing model for pre-electoral political coalitions. It gives an advantage to the major parties, which share or systemically transfer the votes won by smaller parties within their coalitions to secure the majority needed to form a new government.
Under the model prescribed in one of the proposed amendments, the votes of smaller parties or their candidates that did not reach the required threshold to enter parliament would not go to other parties.
The Socialist Party, which dominates the current parliament, discussed the amendments with the boycotting parties in order to reach a consensus on electoral reform. But the opposition parties have often changed their stand in the ongoing talks.
If President Ilir Meta does not issue a decree endorsing the amendments, lawmakers could vote on them again in the next parliamentary session that begins in September.
Meta, who previously led a small boycotting party, openly regretted the amendments, hinting he won’t decree them. Albania is scheduled to hold its next parliamentary election in 2021.
The leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, said the pair of constitutional amendments were “not acceptable, mandatory for the opposition, less so for the citizen.”
Parliament approved other electoral reform laws last week. They focused on the electronic identification of voters, partly depoliticizing the national electoral commission and other recommendations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has monitored the country’s elections.
Albania’s post-communist elections have continually been marred by irregularities, including vote-buying and the manipulation of ballot counts, according to OSCE reports.
International pressure and mediation efforts by ambassadors from the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom helped Albania's political parties reach an agreement on last week's laws. EU spokeswoman Ana Pisonero lamented the lack of a political compromise on the constitutional changes.
The EU agreed in March to begin membership talks with Albania, although a starting date has yet to be set.