Albania’s former president pushes rival politician off parliament podium

Albania’s former president pushes rival politician off parliament podium
By bne IntelliNews April 22, 2022

Video footage of former president and prime minister Sali Berisha pushing the interim head of the Democratic Party, Enkelejd Alibeaj, off the parliament podium on April 21 has gone viral on YouTube. 

Berisha has been trying for months to regain control of the Democratic Party, the main opposition force in Albania, which he led until 2013. 

Alibeaj, the leader of the Democrats’ parliamentary group, is heading the party temporarily until it appoints a new leader following the resignation of Lulzim Basha last month. Berisha is hoping to return to the helm of the party in the upcoming leadership election. 

The incident happened shortly after Prime Minister Edi Rama of the ruling Socialist Party addressed the parliament and told MPs that he will “cut all relations” with the Democrats if the party reinstates Berisha as its leader, and called Berisha “a dead man”. 

“We will cut all relations with the Democratic Party if you choose Berisha as your leader,” Rama told MPs, according to local media reports. 

“We don’t choose who leads your parliamentary group or DP. If you want to choose and be led by a dead man, we will cut all relations. Too harsh, too lax, you decide for yourselves,” the prime minister added. 

After Alibeaj got up to speak, Berisha can be heard calling to him and gesturing. He then walks up to the rostrum and pushed Alibeaj aside before taking the microphone himself. 

However, parliament speaker Lindita Nikolla then ordered Berisha to step down. 

Berisha later gave a statement outside the parliament, saying that Rama was “terrified” of the “true opposition”. 

US ambassador Yuri Kim criticised Berisha’s actions. “The days of storming buildings, beating or shoving others off podiums, threatening those who rightly say “no!”, accusing others of the misdeeds one has committed, perverting the rule of law, counting on impunity those days belong to a past that should not be repeated,” Kim wrote on Twitter. 

Berisha was named persona non grata by the US State Department in May 2021 due to his involvement in “significant corruption”, a statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. 

Along with Berisha, his wife Liri Berisha and children Shkelzen Berisha and Argita Berisha Malltezi were also banned from travelling to the US. 

After Berisha was blacklisted, Basha expelled him from the party’s parliamentary group, which prompted Berisha to launch a campaign to regain control of the party. 

This culminated in a storming of the Democratic Party headquarters by Berisha’s supporters in January. Several hundred people forced their way through the barriers outside the building, smashed windows and forced their way inside. 

After a series of election defeats, Basha eventually stood down after the party’s poor performance in local by-elections in March. Rama’s Socialists won five of the six elections, with the sixth won by a candidate put up by Berisha.