Albania changes election committee despite concern

AP News
Posted: Apr 16, 2013 4:16 AM

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Lawmakers in Albania have voted to replace a member of the country's election commission ahead of a national poll on June 23, prompting sharp criticism from the European Union and the United States.

Parliament voted late Monday 74-0 to replace an official on the seven-member Central Election Commission, or CEC. The official had been backed by a small party that recently left the coalition government to join the opposition. The lawmakers with the opposition Socialist Party boycotted the vote, which they said it violated the constitution.

The CEC manages election preparation and certifies results. Its membership corresponds roughly to the strength of the various political parties in parliament. But the departure from government of a junior coalition party member earlier this month saw Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party lose its majority influence on that committee.

"Changing the rules in the middle of the game, in the middle of the process is precisely the wrong way to inspire the confidence that we are talking about," said U.S. ambassador to Albania, Alexander Arvizu. He said the decision puts Albania on a "collision course" with the international community.

The European Union also expressed concern "over the possible repercussions of a vote in parliament on the people's confidence in the electoral process." EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to visit Tirana later Tuesday.

Post-Communist Albania has failed in the past to meet international election standards.

Some 400 international observers are due in Albania to monitor the June 23 election, when some 3.3 million registered voters will elect 140 legislators for a four-year term.