Sun, Jul 22, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Parliament elects president in Albania after boycott falters

AP , TIRANA

Parliament elected deputy governing party leader Bamir Topi as Albania's new president on Friday, after some opposition lawmakers broke their coalition's boycott and took part in the vote.

The election was greeted widely with relief, as Albania's bickering political groups -- the governing Democratic Party-led coalition and the opposition Socialist Party-led coalition -- had failed in three previous rounds to agree on a presidential candidate, and threatened to take the country to snap general elections.

Celebratory fireworks went off outside the parliament building, and Topi said one of his priorities would be to help reconcile the two political groups.

"My fundamental pledge is to respect the constitution, establish a full balance in the Albanian political climate, and take the country ahead in its main two challenges -- integration into NATO and the European family," Topi said after the election.

Topi, 50, a biologist who previously served as agriculture minister, is due to take office tomorrow, replacing President Alfred Moisiu a day before his term would expire. Moisiu was elected five years ago with a rare consensus between the political groupings.

Had Friday's vote failed, lawmakers would have had just one more chance to chose a president before, by law, Parliament would be dissolved, with new elections held within 60 days. Such a failure would have been considered a serious setback in Albania's integration efforts into NATO and the EU.

In Friday's vote, lawmakers cast 85 votes for Topi, one more than required in the 140-seat parliament to secure the presidency, which has powers over the country's judiciary and armed forces.

Several opposition lawmakers broke rank with their own coalition to join the 80-member governing coalition in the vote.

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