The National Assembly of the Democratic Party (PD) of Albania has voted to hold new leadership elections on May 21, and on a number of changes to party statutes.
On Saturday, April 30, the PD held a crucial second national assembly since its former chairman Sali Berisha launched a movement that challenged the party’s official leadership last Fall.
In addition to setting the date to elect a new chairman, the Assembly voted to remove Enkelejd Alibeaj as leader of the PD’s parliamentary group. Alibeaj has been at odds with Berisha and his Refoundation Committee, claiming they have no legitimacy as representatives of the Democratic Party.
Members also voted for a resolution that condemns election boycotts and is against the renunciation of parliamentary mandates, in a clear rebuke to the legacy of former chairman Lulzim Basha.
In 2019, under Basha’s leadership, the Democratic Party and the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) resigned their mandates and quit Parliament en masse, claiming that the 2017 elections were rigged. Their decision effectively handed Rama and his party full control over Parliament and the country’s legislative agenda.
They also refused to participate in the local elections of 2017, leading to landslide victory for the Socialists with every mayor in the country coming from the ruling party.
Sali Berisha, who has been clear about his intention to run for chairman, took the stage towards the end of the Assembly.
The former Prime Minister denounced the US Department of State’s decision to designate him over corruption, claiming there is no evidence against him.
“I have been sanctioned by the US State Department on charges for which there is absolutely no fact, evidence or document…I am Sali Berisha, I never really accept slander or lies,” he said.
Berisha also spoke against the Open Balkan initiative, Rama’s joint project with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
“We will never accept ‘Open Balkan’, an alliance which is ultimately in the service of Greater Serbia; an alliance which is ultimately in the service of Russian influence in the region,” he proclaimed.
A History of the Battle for PD Leadership
Berisha’s movement called the first national assembly in December, after his national tour criticizing the PD leadership for excluding him from the party’s parliamentary group under pressure by the US administration following his designation over corruption.
The assembly voted to dismiss all PD leadership, including chairman Lulzim Basha, and made some crucial changes in the statuses, including the reduction of its membership from over 7,000 to 1,100. A Refoundation Committee was set up to lead the party until new leadership elections. The assembly decisions were approved in a national vote by party members.
This month, a court decision recognized the national assembly decision made in December, but an appeals court later accepted a complaint by Enkelejd Alibeaj in his capacity as party’s deputy chair and the case is currently waiting to be reviewed.
Ahead of the appeals court decision to accept Alibeaj’s complaint, Berisha repeated allegations of interference with the justice system regarding the case against US Ambassador Yuri Kim. After the court decision was announced later that day, Ambassador Kim denied such allegations, replying that she had only encouraged “judges and prosecutors to do their jobs despite threats or inducements.”
In the past four months, the Refoundation Committee has organized elections in all PD local offices throughout the country, resulting in party members mostly electing Berisha supporters to lead them locally.
From the perspective of Albanian legal authorities, the leadership of the main opposition party currently remains in limbo.
A number of PD parliamentary group MPs with strong media visibility and US administration support are opposing Berisha’s movement and his objective to be elected party chairman. Although MPs have limited say in party decision-making processes, a more clear view of each one’s stance will become clear on Saturday, after they attend or boycott the national assembly.
However, Berisha seems to have overwhelming support from party members. Saturday’s national assembly is expected to further strengthen his hold on the Democratic Party ahead of leadership elections next month, where he would hardly face any real challenger.