The US Ambassador to Tirana met on Monday with Enkelejd Alibeaj, the head of the parliamentary group of the Democratic Party (PD), Albania’s main opposition party. In a tweet following the meeting in the offices of The Albanian parliament, she referred to Alibeaj as “acting chair” of the PD, attracting criticism from other MPs and the public.
“Very good discussion today with Democratic Party Acting Chair and Floor Leader Enkelejd Alibeaj on [a] wide range of issues. The US has had a strong, special relationship with PD from its birth. We value this relationship and PD’s indispensable role for Albania – we hope both will only get stronger. The US and Albania have much work ahead to keep Albania on the path to EU membership, democracy, build defense cooperation, and expand business and economic opportunities for all. Let’s keep moving together forward, not backwards!” US Ambassador Yuri Kim tweeted on Tuesday.
PD is in the midst of an internal crisis and its control remains a matter of dispute between the vast majority of PD members and leadership, who support the movement led by Sali Berisha, and a small group of MPs who formerly sided with Lulzim Basha against Berisha.
Basha dismissed Berisha from the parliamentary group of the party in September, after the latter was designated by the US State Department over corruption. Berisha then went on a national tour calling on party members to dismiss the PD leader since he considered his expulsion to be Basha’s personal decision.
On December 11, a National Assembly of the PD called by Berisha’s movement dismissed all party leadership, including chairman Lulzim Basha. It also established a Refoundation Committee to organize new party elections, and changed the party logo. Its decisions were approved in a national vote by PD members one week later.
Basha and the dismissed leadership did not recognize the assembly, claiming it had not followed proper procedures. They responded with a questionable second assembly one week later, dismissing all organizers of the previous assembly from the party.
Membership in the PD National Assembly is based on the positions held within party structures. Therefore, both assemblies can be legal only if the same people participated in both and voted in favor of completely opposite decisions: one assembly voting to dismiss Basha, the other to dismiss Berisha.
While no institution has verified the signatures of participants in both assemblies, it is more plausible that the one called by Berisha has obtained the required signatures of 4,900 assembly members. The Assembly was held in the national stadium, providing enough space for the crowd, and their decisions were put to a national vote by party members.
The second assembly called by Basha in response was held in a closed building with some 2,000 seats, although it claimed that 5,004 members were in attendance.
Following the PD’s crushing defeat in by-elections last month, Basha announced his resignation as party chairman, while the Refoundation Committee stated this was unnecessary as Basha was already dismissed in December.
However, the (already dismissed) General Secretary Gazmend Bardhi moved on to appoint deputy chairman Enkelejd Alibeaj as PD acting chairman, without calling the National Assembly to decide, as required by PD statutes.
A few days later, the court approved changes to the PD statuses made by the assembly called by Berisha, thus recognizing the Refoundation Committee as the institution heading the party. Alibeaj, who is also head of the PD parliamentary group, attacked the court decision and on Monday appealed it. Experts are divided on whether he has the legal rights to do so, with many claiming he does not represent the PD as a party in the alleged legal case.
Amidst this controversial background, US Ambassador Yuri Kim appeared to be interfering once again in the PD crisis, this time by recognizing Alibeaj as acting chair while reiterating the US position against Berisha’s movement.
In their reaction, the Refoundation Committee called Ambassador Kim’ reference to Alibeaj as acting chair “ridiculous and absurd”. They reminded her of the court decision in favor of their statuses’ changes and the by-elections result. The statement further accused the ambassador of playing Prime Minister Edi Rama’s game to keep the opposition weak.
“Fortunately, Albanians have realised that the true American values are not arrogance, diversion and dictate but free elections and democracy. The former chair who left understood this, as will understand whoever thinks he/she can take over the opposition against the will of the majority,” they concluded.
The Refoundation Committee has called a meeting of the National Assembly in April to elect the party leadership. Berisha has announced he will run for chairman. In that case, it is unlikely he will be defeated.