Amidst calls by international partners for a more inclusive approach and despite protests from the main opposition parties, parliament in Albania changed the constitution on Thursday, removing the right of parties to compete in elections through coalitions, a move that critics say will give the ruling Socialist Party an advantage in the next parliamentary elections due in spring 2021.
Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama defended the move, by emphasizing that electoral systems are an internal matter of sovereign countries.
“Albania is a sovereign country and I am the Prime Minister of a sovereign country,” Rama said, responding to calls by Western partners that advised against changing the rules of the game without seeking a compromise with the main opposition parties.
“Let our friends and partners listen to this,” Rama said in his speech. “What we are doing is to bring the electoral system of Albania within the framework of the one billion inhabitants of the world of the OSCE/ODIHR,” he added, referencing the total population of all countries that belong to the OSCE.
Following the vote, the opposition Democratic Party leader, Lulzim Basha, said Rama had “shown the face of an autocrat who is terrified of the punishment that he expects”.
The EU Ambassador in Albania, Luigi Soreca, expressed dismay that Rama didn’t push for a wider compromise but added that the EU would “acknowledge” the changes.
“While we acknowledge the adoption by the Albanian parliament of some changes to the constitution concerning the electoral system, it is unfortunate that no more time was dedicated in the preparatory phase to finding a compromise with all parties,” Soreca said.
It is the first time in about two decades that the country has changed its electoral system without first achieving a broad political compromise.
Albania uses a system of regional proportional representation that divides MPs belonging to each party through a mathematical formula that awards a bonus seat to the party that comes first in the election.
Up till the last elections, parties can obtain a higher number of MPs by running in coalitions, which the changes adopted on Thursday now make invalid.
The two main opposition parties, the centre-right Democrats and the Socialist Movement of Integration, led by the wife of the current President of Albania, Ilir Meta, has now to decide whether to join forces against Rama, or potentially allow opposition votes to be split between them.