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Originally published Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 8:16 AM

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Albanian lawmakers approve electoral reforms

The Albanian parliament on Thursday approved electoral reforms following pressure from the European Union and opposition allegations that past votes have been rigged.

The Associated Press

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TIRANA, Albania —

The Albanian parliament on Thursday approved electoral reforms following pressure from the European Union and opposition allegations that past votes have been rigged.

Lawmakers voted 127-2 in favor of constitutional amendments that allow greater transparency in the selection of key electoral commission officials and introduce digital voter identity checks in the capital, Tirana. Parliament also approved a pilot project to computerize the vote count in the city of Fier.

The changes, which will apply to the next national elections planned for 2013, follow a key request for electoral reform from the EU, which Albania hopes to join.

But they do not address small opposition parties' demands for a national proportional system of representation. The small parties say the existing system makes it hard for them to enter Parliament, because when they fail to pass a 3 percent threshold in any of the 12 electoral districts their votes in that district go to the two biggest parties.

Albanian President Bamir Topi is expected to issue a decree within the next few days passing the reforms into law.

A spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele welcomed the changes. Peter Stano said the adoption of the reforms was a move "towards meeting a key (EU) priority."

This autumn, Albania expects the EU to make a new assessment of its bid to be designated a candidate member - following two consecutive refusals from Brussels over the past two years.

Stano also urged a "constructive attitude" from Tirana towards further reforms in the rule of law, which he said were "essential for Albania to advance on the EU path this year."

Stano said such reforms should include easing restrictions on the investigation and prosecution of lawmakers, government officials, judges and prosecutors.

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