US urges Albania to remedy "charade" over election commission

By bne IntelliNews April 25, 2013

bne -

The US has a lot invested in Albania and has urged its Balkan ally to end the scandal over the make-up of the election watchdog in order to have the June elections judged free and fair, newswires reported.

Albania has yet to hold an independently approved election since the end of communism, causing this Nato's member's EU aspirations to stall. There have been hopes that the upcoming June 13 elections would present the first, but a scandal that has seen three opposition-nominated members quit the Central Election Commission (CEC) to protest at the sacking of a fellow commissioner, meaning the four remaining state-appointed members cannot validate the polls, have soured the mood abroad. The CEC is a seven-member collegial body tasked with overseeing elections in Albania. Although, its members are proposed by political parties, with a formula that grants the ruling coalition the right to propose four of the seven members, the CEC is considered an independent institution.

"In order to have a good election, you need a functioning CEC, not a CEC based on a charade. It needs to be the result of political consensus, an agreement," US Ambassador Alexander Arvizu was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters in the town of Korce on Wednesday, after becoming dismayed at the silence about the issue by both government and opposition members.

Arvizu warned time was running out, making it more important "for the sides to come together and reconstitute the CEC", echoing EU calls to create confidence in the integrity of elections in Albania. "The pieces are all in place. No charade, just get down to serious business, a functioning CEC... There's probably more than one solution, but a solution is possible. We expect it to happen," Arvizu said.

The scandal began with a controversial vote in parliament pushed by the ruling coalition on April 20 that sacked a member of the CEC who had been proposed by the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI. This was because the LSI left the ruling coalition as a junior government partner in order to join the Socialist-led opposition ahead of the June 23 parliamentary elections. The Socialist Party is led by Edi Rama, whose alliance of 39 other parties in a coalition for a "European Albania" is looking to oust the Democrats from office after two four-year terms.

The opposition condemned the vote, arguing that there was no legal basis for dismissing the commissioner and that his sacking put the independence of the CEC at risk. Two other member of the CEC, who had been proposed by the opposition Socialists, resigned in protest in the subsequent days and a third member, from the Union for Human Rights, the Greek minority party, suspended work in protest, bringing the commission to a standstill.

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