Berisha gives notice of 'irrevocable' resignation

President Sali Berisha of Albania marked the opening of the new parliament yesterday by announcing his "irrevocable" resignation as head of state in the wake of the stinging defeat suffered by his Democratic Party in last month's general elections.

The announcement, made in a radio broadcast and yet to be fully formalised, was one more tortuously taken step along the path to the relinquishing of the authoritarian power Mr Berisha has wielded over the past five years.

Ever since the elections, which went relatively smoothly despite the prevailing mood of anarchy in the country, Mr Berisha has paid lip-service to normal democratic behaviour while still attempting to stir up trouble behind the scenes. First he lent his tacit support to Leka Zogu, hero of the royalist party whose attempt to become king was rejected in a popular referendum.

Then he complained that the elections had been conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation towards Democratic Party supporters and vowed that his party would boycott parliament until further notice.

Party members serving on the central electoral commission held up the final results by two weeks by refusing to put their signatures to them. At yesterday's opening session of parliament, the party's seats remained empty. Yesterday's statement was the clearest indication yet that he is on his way out, but Mr Berisha has more aces up his sleeve.

He put himself on his party's electoral list and will, once the boycott is over, enter parliament as leader of the opposition. He also has plenty of ardent supporters - many of them young, ill-educated and heavily armed, with the potential to stir up trouble This prospect still frightens many Albanians, although his room for manoeuvre is likely to be severely limited once he finally leaves office. The new government is expected to be led by the head of the victorious Socialist Party, Fatos Nano, while the new president is likely to be Rexhep Mejdani, who ran the Socialist Party while Mr Nano was in prison on trumped-up charges of corruption. The president will become a far more honorific figure, as stipulated by the constitution.

The manner of Mr Berisha's resignation exactly mirrors that of his predecessor, Albania's last Communist ruler Ramiz Alia. Mr Alia also waited for the opening of the new parliament to step down, but in his case his power was exhausted with the ending of his mandate and he quit politics. Mr Berisha left him in peace for two years before putting him on trial for political crimes - a fate the present outgoing president must surely be afraid of facing himself.

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