Albania's parliament voted on Thursday to lift the legal immunity of former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who leads the opposition Democratic Party and is accused of corruption.
Opposition MPs inside the chamber boycotted the vote and tried to disrupt the meeting by gathering chairs and throwing flares, but were prevented by security guards. Berisha refused to take the floor to speak against the proposal.
The ruling Socialist Party holds 74 of the 140 seats in Albania's national legislature, and 75 lawmakers agreed to grant prosecutors' request to lift Berisha's parliamentary immunity. Thursday's vote gives prosecutors permission to seek court permission to place Berisha under arrest or house arrest.
With the opposition refusing to participate, there were no votes against the motion or abstentions.
Berisha, 79, was charged with corruption in October for allegedly abusing his position to help his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, buy land in Tirana owned by both civilians and the defense ministry and build 17 apartment buildings on the property.
Berisha and Maltese have both pleaded not guilty, claiming the case was a political move by Prime Minister Edi Rama's ruling Socialist Party. Prosecutors said that if convicted, Berisha faces up to 12 years in prison.
Supporters of the Democratic Party demonstrated outside parliament on Thursday with anti-government banners and chants of “Down with the dictatorship”. Berisha called on his supporters to join “a battle of no return” against the “authoritarian regime” of the Socialists.
“This decision will not destroy the opposition, but it will mobilize it, and under the slogan ‘Today or never', it will respond to this regime,” Berisha told reporters after the vote.
Berisha served as prime minister of Albania from 2005-2013 and as president from 1992-1997. He was re-elected as a deputy of the Democratic Party in the parliamentary elections of 2021.
The United States government in May 2021 and the United Kingdom in July 2022 banned Berisha and their immediate family members from entering their countries for alleged involvement in corruption.
Since Berisha was indicted in October, opposition lawmakers have regularly disrupted parliament sessions to protest the Socialists' refusal to set up commissions to investigate alleged corruption cases involving Rama and other top government officials.
The disruptions stand in the way of much-needed reforms at a time when the European Union has agreed to begin the process of harmonizing Albanian laws with those of the EU as part of the Balkan country's move towards full membership of the bloc.
Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini