Albanian parliament approves pre-election Cabinet shakeup

AP News
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Posted: May 22, 2017 5:07 PM

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's parliament has approved a government shake-up as part of a compromise worked out between political parties before next month's parliamentary election.

The unanimous vote on Monday came after President Bujar Nishani issued decrees naming the opposition's recommendations for deputy prime minister and six other ministerial posts: interior, education, health, social wellbeing, finance and justice.

A three-month opposition boycott of parliament ended last week with an agreement between the governing Socialist Party and the opposition-led Democratic Party that was mediated by U.S. and European Union officials.

Parliament was dissolved earlier this month as required by the constitution ahead of elections. The vote on the Cabinet reshuffling was held in a special session.

The agreement postponed the election by one week and allows the opposition, which voiced concern that Prime Minister Edi Rama could manipulate the process, to monitor voting.

Lawmakers also voted Monday to toughen the penalties for election-related crimes such as ballot-selling and buying, misuse of police authority and making unreported campaign contributions. All were made crimes punishable by a maximum of seven years' imprisonment.

Elections in post-communist Albania have never been considered as fully free and fair and in line with democratic standards.

Under the pre-election deal, the parties agreed that candidates would undergo thorough vetting. Parliament also replaced the head of the Central Election Commission with an opposition nominee.

In a related development, lawmakers approved the opposition members who will serve on commissions that are creating vetting bodies to evaluate the backgrounds of around 800 judges and prosecutors.

Establishing the judicial review panels is a key condition of European Union agreeing to launch membership negotiations with Albania. The opposition boycott had blocked the process.

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