Strike two for Albanian presidential vote

By bne IntelliNews June 5, 2012

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Albania's parliament failed for a second time in as many weeks to elect a new president on June 4, as leaders of the two main political parties continue to struggle to agree on a candidate. The pair have one last chance to reach a consensus before risking an automatic rejection of the country's bid for candidate status with the EU.

Following an initial aborted attempt on May 29, the parliament failed to hold a vote for the second time on June 4. The cancelled poll followed a meeting between Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the governing Democratic Party and Edi Rama, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, the previous evening, AP reports.

"There is not an official candidate to hold a vote," parliament speaker and Berisha ally Jozefina Topalli told the house, according to Xinhua. "On the basis of the Constitution of Albania the voting is considered done. I shall start consultations to determine when the third round will be a help."

The parliamentary gathering lasted just two minutes or so, according to reports, just long enough for a declaration that no candidate would be presented for consideration. Both Berisha and Rama are reported to be "optimistic" that a solution will be found in time for round three, with another vote expected later this week, although the leaders offered little more detail than to claim they have now laid the groundwork for future talks.

Under the Albanian constitution, the parliament has a maximum of five attempts to choose a successor for President Bamir Topi, whose five-year term expires on July 24. Should it fail, it would trigger early parliamentary elections, to be held within 45 days. Topi is not running for a second term, and the Democrats have proposed Xhezair Zaganjori, a constitutional court judge as his replacement. The Socialists claim that they have not been consulted properly on the appointment.

However, there is extreme pressure to find consensus on the next vote. Losing the first two of five rounds to elect a president with a 60% majority means the parliament has only one more stab at electing a new head of state by consensus under the constitution. Failure to secure more than 84 votes in the 140-seat parliament in the third round would see the required margin drop to a simple majority. With 74 seats, the governing coalition would have a simple task to push the decision through.

Whilst the parliament will avoid early elections then, it would prove another setback for the Berisha's "top priority" - as he phrased it to bne in October - of EU accession.

Brussels has made the consensual election of a president - a mostly ceremonial post, although it officially heads the legal system and the armed forces - a litmus test for the détente between the government and opposition. A bitter standoff was sparked by disputed elections in 2009 and a riot in which police shot several protestors, and the Socialists boycotted parliament until a tentative peace deal was reached in late 2011.

The logjam has delayed several important reforms demanded by Brussels, and therefore has frozen the country's bid to progress towards EU accession. Failure to find consensus in the next vote on a new president risks a third rejection of Tirana's application for candidate status in as many years this autumn.

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