Albania’s political parties

Europe’s main security and democracy forum urged Albania’s political parties on Monday to improve a disputed new electoral code that has prompted 10 members of parliament to go on hunger strike.

Sitting in the debating chamber under a banner declaring “votes are sacred”, the MPs entered the seventh day of their fast as police manned cordons outside the building, where hundreds of protesters had gathered.

The lawmakers, all from small parties, believe the proposed new regional system of proportional representation will greatly reduce their number of seats at next year’s general election.

The ambassador of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Robert Bosch, told reporters it would “not rubber stamp” the election code.

The OSCE then issued a statement saying that “the draft Electoral Code, which was prepared by the Albanians themselves, was an achievement, but that it still needs some fine tuning”.

“For that reason, it needs to be discussed in the proper fora by the parties, but not under coercion by any one grouping,” the OSCE said, referring to the hunger strike.

The ruling Democratic Party and main opposition Socialist Party had been expected to force the new code through parliament in a vote on Monday.

But they postponed it until Tuesday, apparently in response to the OSCE comments and the protest by Socialist Integration Movement (SIM) and Christian Democratic (CHD) supporters.

CHD leader Nard Ndoka said they had asked for two weeks to re-negotiate the draft code.

The draft law does not formally require the OSCE’s approval, but its opinion is important because its observers will be the arbiters of whether the election, expected next spring, is free and fair.

The European Union has made it clear that the vote must be of a high standard if Albania wants to advance to join the 27-member bloc.

Albania, which for decades was one of Europe’s most rigid communist states, has yet to hold elections that meet international standards.

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