TIRANA Albania's parliament voted for a new president without casting a single ballot on Wednesday, convening and then closing the first of five election rounds in less than 10 minutes because no candidate came forward to run.
The bizarre non-election went ahead despite a boycott by the opposition Democratic Party, which quit parliament two months ago and has since insisted Tirana first needs to name a technocratic government.
To ensure that the ceremonial figure of president is a compromise figure, the constitution requires a candidate to get three-fifths of the vote to win in the first three rounds.
If no candidate wins, the rules then say a simple majority will do to pick the new head of state.
The other parties in parliament decided to go ahead with the empty vote as a way to respect this approach and pressure the Democrats to return and make it a real election.
"No candidates have been presented to parliament," Vasilika Hysi, head of parliament's legal committee, announced to the chamber. "Even without a candidate, the first round is considered to have been held," added speaker Ilir Meta.
Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama argued for patience when spoke to reporters after the open-and-shut first round.
"We shall wait," he said. "It's better have the right president and one who is accepted by as many (parties) as possible. We never saw our power as an urge to be arrogant, but to be patient."
A lot of this back-and-forth is tactical. The Democratic Party, which has been losing support to the government in recent local elections, has switched its focus to the parliamentary elections due to be held on June 18.
It has not applied to run in those elections, in an effort to put pressure on the government to make way for technocrats.
Under regular pressure from the European Union and from Germany this week, the ruling Socialists and the Democrats agreed last week to talks between their leaders.
Albania's current government and opposition leaders have been taunting each other daily rather than offering sincere dialogue, delaying compromise.
Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha remained adamant about demanding a technocrat government and nothing else.
"Pave the way for dialogue ... or the squares and streets of Albania will be taken over by a peaceful armada (of our supporters), he told supporters while parliament was in session.
Parliament was due to hold the next voting round on Thursday.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Tom Heneghan)