Former Democratic Party boss Sali Berisha claims he is once again head of the opposition party after Sunday’s elections – despite an ongoing court case concerning the leadership.
Sali Berisha at the protest against “Open Balkan” and the “affair of incinerators”. Photo: BIRN
Sali Berisha appeared to be back in charge of Albania’s main centre-right opposition Democratic Party after nine years, after he won 93 per cent of votes cast by around 40,000 party members on Sunday.
The move follows months of battles for control of the party between Berisha, 76 – who was declared non-grata by the US State Department for involvement in corruption and expelled from the party – and its then leader, Lulzim Basha.
Disillusioned with Basha, Berisha started a new movement within the party, aiming to take back control of it by holding a “National Assembly” last December, where his supporters gathered and annulled Basha’s decision to expel him. The so-called Re-Founding Committee of the party then organised internal elections.
Basha then resigned as leader after March 6 by-elections in six municipalities saw the official party doing worse than Berisha’s breakaway group – which won one important municipality, Shkodra, in the north.
Since Basha resigned, the party has been run temporarily by Enkelejd Alibeaj.
A court in Tirana on 25 March accepted the changes made by the assembly held by Berisha last December. Alibeaj has appealed the decision but the Court of Appeals has not yet issued a verdict.
BIRN asked Berisha’s spokeswoman, Floriana Garo, how matters will proceed with his election as leader, when a court case is still going on, but did not get a response by time of publication.
When Berisha was asked by the media if he feared that a Court of Appeal ruling could change things, he answered: “There isn’t any decision that can stop this historical decision of the Albanian Democrats”.
Berisha was Albania’s first democratically elected president from 1992 to 1997 but his rule was marked by human rights violations and election rigging.
He fell from power after fraudulent pyramid schemes that swallowed several hundred million dollars from a poor and unsuspecting population – which the government failed to warn people about and properly supervise – ended in turmoil and public disorder.
He returned to power as prime minister after the Democratic Party won the general elections in 2005 on an anti-corruption campaign. But his term in office was marked by several scandals involving his own family members, though no charges were ever raised.
Berisha lost the 2013 parliamentary elections to Socialist leader Edi Rama in 2013 and resigned as head of the Democratic Party, but remained a powerful figure in it.
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