Albania Changes Election Rules in Defiance of EU Recommendations

Albania’s ruling party pushed through changes to voting rules ahead of next year’s elections, flouting European Union recommendations and potentially complicating the nation’s chances of starting accession talks soon.

Lawmakers of Premier Edi Rama’s Socialist Party backed changes to the constitution banning pre-election coalitions, news portal reported Thursday. The change prevents smaller parties from joining forces to campaign together while still staying apart, which hurts their chances running against the dominant Socialists. The country’s main opposition groups have boycotted parliament since 2019.

Albania Changes Election Rules in Defiance of EU Recommendations

“Nobody has this system of pre-election coalitions and we will undo it,” Rama said in parliament before the vote.

The change follows praise from the U.S. and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe earlier this month for Albania’s ruling and opposition parties clinching an agreement on electoral reform. The topic is high on a list of 15 requirements the country must fulfill to start accession talks with the EU.

“The reason for banning pre-election coalitions is 100% political,” said Afrim Krasniqi, the head of the Institute for Political Studies in Tirana. “A large coalition of the opposition can seriously threaten Rama’s mandate in the 2021 elections, so through the initiative, Rama intends to stop it.”

Albania also needs to address the issues of financing political parties and campaigns, continue with judicial reform and step up the fight against organized crime and corruption, the European Council said in March, when it decided to give the go-ahead for membership talks to start.

Rama, who’s led the government since 2013, is facing the task of rebuilding the country after an earthquake last November and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Six Western Balkan nations, including Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, are all in a group of transitional of hybrid regimes with declining democratic standards, the Freedom House think tank said this year.

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