With court recognition of Berisha-led DP, main opposition party shows signs of unity 

TIRANA, June 25, 2024 – Ending years of turmoil, a court has placed Albania’s main opposition Democratic Party officially under the control of the faction that has the most support among voters. 

The decision means the state-recognized seal and funding will now shift from the minority faction led by Lulzim Basha to the faction with the largest voter support, which is led by Sali Berisha, DP’s perennial leader and former prime minister.

In effect, the court’s decision means that it accepts the assembly vote that expelled Basha and made Berisha leader in December 2021.

“History will recognize the great merit of this decision in preventing a true disaster for the country, the capture of political pluralism by the state party,” Berisha said in a statement following the ruling.  

Berisha, who is under house arrest but holds small rallies below his window with supporters on a nightly basis, called for Democrats to unite. 

“Today the door for them is open and the respect for their contributions and different opinions is guaranteed,” Berisha said in a statement. 

In previous elections Berisha’s faction had to compete under another coalition’s logo, which his supporters say was aimed at creating a “fake opposition” under Basha as a way for Prime Minister Edi Rama to weaken the opposition. 

Results showed the DP faction then under Basha, with its state funding and recognition, performed dismally. Basha has now indicated he will create his own party, but polls show his support among the general electorate at about 2 percent. 

The court ruling has led to most of the few MPs that were still loyal to Basha shifting their loyalties to the larger group led by Gazmend Bardhi, who took his MPs to Berisha’s Re-Establishent Faction after Basha’s group showed dismal results in the local elections on May 14 of last year. 

The rift in the party started when then-chairman Basha expelled Berisha from the parliamentary group due to the U.S. State Department designating Berisha as barred from entering the U.S. on corruption allegations, something Albanians refer to as “non-grata” colloquially. 

Berisha says no proof has even been presented for the decision and is a product of the Albanian government lobbying against him. 

Despite his designation by the United States, in the last elections, Berisha was able to bring together more than 600,000 voters, making his political group the second largest in Albania, trailing the Socialist Party, which says it aims to rule Albania in perpetuity and beyond its current 12 years in power marred by a series of corruption scandals. 

Berisha, 79, has been under house arrest for nearly seven months, even though no formal charges have been filed against him, a move his supporters say is unconstitutional and a play from a government-captured judiciary.

Even though the investigation is three years in the works, no charges against him have been filed, raising eyebrows on political motivations against the opposition leader. 

But his supporters point out that the court decision to make him official opposition leader ends the narrative of “a fake opposition” backed by internationals but which has little support among voters of the Democratic Party. 

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