Albania's Ex-Leader Retakes Top Post In Split Party

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s main opposition center-right Democratic party said on Monday that controversial former president and prime minister Sali Berisha has been re-elected as its leader, nine years after he last held the post, and is pledging to bring the party back to power.

Berisha, 77, won overwhelmingly with 93.45% of the party's membership vote on Sunday to become the leader again and said he would “save Albania from a regime it does not deserve.” However, his support from members was not replicated among the party's lawmakers, where he received the support of only a minority.

Berisha's rival, Ibsen Elezi, had asked for a postponement of the voting, claiming irregularities.

The Democrats' top post has been empty since March when Lulzim Basha resigned following divisive infighting after he fired Berisha from the parliamentary group.

Basha acted after last year U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken designated Berisha and his close family members persona non grata for “corrupt acts that undermined democracy in Albania” during his 2005-2013 tenure as prime minister.

Basha's actions sparked an internal party fight, with Berisha creating a group seeking to remove Basha from his post, accusing him of being a “hostage” of Prime Minister Edi Rama of the left-wing Socialist Party.

In January, Democratic Party supporters clashed with each other as they tried to storm their party headquarters.

Berisha was the country’s president from 1992 until he resigned in 1997 following a countrywide antigovernmental protest after many people lost their life savings in failed pyramid investment schemes supported by Berisha’s government.

He came back to power in 2005 and ran as prime minister until he lost in parliamentary elections in 2013.

Since the designation by Washington he has strongly re-entered the country’s politics with the backing of his old supporters, despite his age.

Washington has made it clear it will not cooperate with Albania’s Democratic Party if it is led by Berisha. There has been no reaction from the U.S. Embassy so far.

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