Albania’s parliament elected a top military official as the new president on Saturday, after no candidates were nominated in three rounds of voting.
Gen Maj. Bajram Begaj, a top military official who previously served as the 26th Chief of General Staff of the Albanian Armed Forces from July 2020 to June 2022, was elected Albania’s new president after the 140-seat Parliament voted 78 in favor, four against and one abstained.
The ruling left-wing Socialist Party nominated and voted for Begaj after failing to reach a compromise with the opposition party regarding a candidate to replace President Ilir Meta. No independent candidate was nominated.
Most opposition members boycotted the voting.
Compared with Albania’s last presidential election, when outgoing incumbent Ilir Meta was elected, no names were leaked even to pro-government media in this latest round of elections. Pundits criticized the ruling Socialist Party for keeping the candidate-picking process confined to its inner circle.
Begaj is Albania’s eighth president since the fall of communism in the country, and the third military member to take the post. The five-year presidency has a largely ceremonial role in the country, and the chosen candidate should carry out their duties as a non-partisan member of government.
The Albanian president holds some authority over the country’s judiciary and the armed forces, and the role is limited to two terms.
Begaj was one of six candidates, according to the leader of the Socialist Party Prime Minister Edi Rama. No candidates of the governing majority were taken into consideration, said Rama.
“We gave Albania a normal president, an indisputable personality in his integrity, humanity and commitment for the country and its people,” the Prime Minister said.
Begaj was released from his military post via decree from the president. Meta, who regularly opposed the government, congratulated Begaj on his appointment. A presidential handover ceremony is planned for 24 July.
Begaj has been the chief-of-staff of the Albanian army since July 2020. Before then, he served on several army posts, including positions in public and military hospitals. He trained in the US on strategic medical leadership and defense management.
The US, EU and other Western allies congratulated Begaj on his appointment.
“Congratulations to Bajram Begaj on his election to become Albania’s next President,” tweeted the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
“We look forward to working together for a prosperous, secure and solid EU-#Albania relationship, as members of one European family,” he continued.
Image via Wikimedia