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Sali Ram Berisha, (Albanian pronunciation: [saˈli bɛˈɾiʃa]; born 15 October 1944) is an Albanian politician who has been Prime Minister of Albania since 2005. A cardiologist by profession, Berisha leads the Democratic Party of Albania (PD) and served as President of Albania from 1992 to 1997. To date, he is the longest-serving democratically-elected leader and the only President of the Republic elected to a second term.
A former secretary of the committee of the Party of Labor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tirana, he abandoned his career as a cardiologist and university professor to become the leader of the Democratic Party in the 1990s. From 1992, after the fall of communism, he served as the President of Albania until his government collapsed in 1997 in the wake of the collapse of pyramid schemes. From 1997 to 2005, Albania was governed by the Socialist Party (PS) for two mandates, while he stayed in opposition.
In 2005, the Democratic Party won the general elections, and he became the Prime Minister after his coalition formed the new government. In 2009, he was re-elected Prime Minister, after the Democrats declared a narrow win of general elections but were forced into a coalition with the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) through not winning enough seats on its own for the first time since the start of multi-party democracy in 1991.
Sali Berisha is married to Liri Berisha (née Slobodanka Ramaj, daughter of Rexhep Ramaj and Milica Bulatović), a pediatrician. The couple has two children, a daughter, Argita Malltezi (née Berisha), and a son, Shkëlzen Berisha.
Early life and career
Berisha was born in Viçidol, Tropojë District, Kukës County, northern Albania, near the border with Kosovo to Ram and Sheqere Berisha. He studied medicine at the University of Tirana, graduating in 1967. He specialized in cardiology and was subsequently appointed as an assistant professor of medicine at the same university and as staff cardiologist at the Tirana General Hospital. At the same time, Berisha became a member of a discussion forum for changes in the Albanian Party of Labor while having been enrolled as a member a few years earlier. Apart from his native Albanian, he speaks English, Italian and French fluently. During the 1970s, Berisha gained distinction as the leading researcher in the field of cardiology in Albania and became professor of cardiology at the University of Tirana. In 1978 he received a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) fellowship for nine months of advanced study and training in Paris. He returned to Albania in 1979 and became the personal physician of the country's ruler, Enver Hoxha, and the head of the Communist Party apparatus at Tirana's main hospital. He also conducted a research program on hemodynamics that attracted considerable attention among his colleagues in Europe. In 1986 he was elected to be a member of the European Committee for Research on Medical Sciences, where he worked for the elaboration of scientific researches strategies for “Health for all”. In an interview for the Albanian Writers League newspaper published also in the international press, Berisha demanded that the remaining barriers to freedom of thought and expression be ended, that Albanians be granted the right to travel freely within the country and abroad, and that Albania abandon its isolationist foreign policy. At an August 1990 meeting of the nation’s intellectuals convened by President Ramiz Alia, Berisha urged the Albanian Party of Labor (APL) to abolish the third article of the communist constitution which sanctioned that the Party of Labor had the hegemony of the Power, to recognize the Human Rights Charter, the drafting of a new democratic constitution, and to remove all monuments of Stalin in the country.
In an article published in the “Bashkimi” newspaper on 17 September 1990, Berisha condemned what he termed the “cosmetic reforms” of the Alia regime, which had only served to aggravate unrest within the nation. Without political pluralism, he argued, there could be no true democracy in Albania.
In December 1990, Berisha joined, on the very first day, a series of student demonstrations that forced the government to approve the establishment of a multi-party system. Berisha emerged as the leader of the Democratic Party of Albania (DP), the first and largest of the new opposition parties. It is interesting to note that all leading members of the party wore white coats during demonstrations, while Berisha was heard thanking Ramiz Alia when meeting with the students and was seen driving around Skanderbeg Square with a government vehicle. He was formally elected DP chairman in February 1991 at the party’s first national congress. He was elected member of Albania parliament in 1991, 1992, 1997, 2001 from the constituency of Kavajë.
After the first free elections of Albania, Berisha was elected President of the Republic on 9 April 1992. Following his election as the second President of the Republic of Albania, Sali Berisha and his government were engaged in a profound course of political, economic, institutional, legislative and multifaceted reforms. Therefore, the complete privatization of land and residencies, as well as of all small and medium state enterprises, was accomplished over the period ’92-’96; prices and exchange rates were fully liberalized, and Albania changed from a country of a three figure inflation rate and economic growth regression of −20% into a country with a one-figure inflation rate and with an average economic growth rate of 9% in ’92 and, in ’93 – ’96, 75% of GDP was generated from the private sector. Albania opened towards the West; it became a member of the Council of Europe in 1995; it signed the Partnership for Peace Agreement in 1993, and it established a close cooperation with European Union countries and the United States.
All laws of the communist dictatorship were replaced with new laws of European standards, and a series of institutions that had not been in place before, like the Constitutional Court and High Council of Justice, were established.
Berisha's Democratic Party won the general election on 26 May 1996, though it was marred by accusations of intimidation, manipulation and violent squelching of a peaceful opposition protests discrediting them. The country plunged into a political crisis, as the Democratic Party refused to annul the elections – they had won four-fifths of the seats in parliament – and the opposition Socialists abandoned the institutions.
The collapse of the Ponzi schemes towards the end of 1996, into which it is alleged that Albanians invested $1 billion worth of life savings from 1994, recapped the crisis. The schemes failed, one by one, from December 1996, and demonstrators took to the streets to accuse the government of having stolen the money. Those demonstrations were then taken over by the opposition.
By March, military depots around the country were looted and for a time it looked like civil war would erupt between the government and rebels. Berisha refused opposition demands to step down, and Multinational Forces of NATO were required to step in and take the situation under control. After their intervention in Albania, early elections were held in June 1997, leading to the victory of a socialist-led coalition of parties. He resigned from the president's tenure one month after the DP lost the 1997 elections to the left coalition. In July 1997, Berisha was replaced by the socialist Rexhep Meidani. Since then he has been the chairman of the DP, which became the biggest opposition party. He eventually returned to power and, since 2005, has been the leader of the Democratic Party.
Opposition leader (1997–2005)
Sali Berisha led the coalition of the center-right parties in the general elections held in five rounds in June–August 2001. Although Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/ODIHR International Election Observation Mission declared these elections as being manipulated. The coalition won 37% of the votes. Berisha led continuous peaceful demonstrations demanding fresh elections.
Prime Minister (2005-ongoing)
On 3 July 2005 Sali Berisha was able to lead a coalition of five right center parties into the 2005 parliamentary elections, which eventually won a majority of 74 MPs from a total of 140. He was appointed Prime Minister of Albania on 8 September 2005.
On 10 June 2007, Sali Berisha met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Tirana. Bush became the first U.S. president to visit Albania and repeated his staunch support for the independence of neighbouring Kosovo from Serbia: "At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you've got to say, enough is enough. Kosovo is independent."
On 15 March 2008, Berisha faced the toughest challenge of his government when an ammunition dump exploded in the village of Gërdec near Tirana, causing the deaths of 26 people and injuring over 100. Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu resigned, and the press reported many irregularities at the blast site, operated by an Albanian company that deactivated the country's aging ammunition and then sold it for scrap.
In June 2009, Berisha's Democrats declared a narrow win in the parliamentary elections. Berisha's alliance won enough seats to form a government, though it fell one seat short of a majority during the elections of 28 June 2009, having to join forces with a splinter socialist party, the Socialist Movement for Integration of Ilir Meta, whom Berisha appointed to the post of Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs, and later Minister of Economy, Trade and Energy. It is the first time since the start of multi-party democracy in 1991 that a ruling party had been forced into a coalition through not winning enough seats on its own.
The 2009 elections have been called flawed by the socialist opposition, who have asked for a recount of the ballots. Berisha has refused any recount of the votes, on the ground that the Albanian Constitution does not foresee such procedure. For that reason he called the opposition to the parliament to change the constitution, but the Socialist Party refused. The political crisis between government and opposition has worsened over time, with the Socialists abandoning parliamentary debates for months and staging hunger strikes to ask for internal and international support. The EU attempted a conciliation, which failed. The ongoing political crisis was one of the reasons for the EU's refusal to grant Albania official candidate status in late 2010.
On 21 January 2011, clashes broke out between police and protesters in a anti-government rally in front of the Government building in Tirana. Four people were shot dead from government special forces. The EU issued a statement to Albanian politicians, warning both sides to refrain from violence, while Berisha defined the protests and the subsequent charges by judges upon policemen as stages of an attempted coup against him.
In 2012, the Royalist Party was named as an affiliated organization within Sali Berisha's democratic party. The Royalist Party has a firm stand against homosexuality and the rights of LGBT Albanian citizens.
- Fall of communism in Albania
- Pyramid schemes in Albania
- 1997 rebellion in Albania
- 1998 failed coup d'état
- 2008 Gërdec explosions
- 2011 Albanian opposition demonstrations
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