TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's parliament elected its leader as the country's new president Friday, abandoning efforts to build consensus with boycotting opposition lawmakers after two weeks of delays.
Speaker Ilir Meta was chosen after lawmakers in the 140-seat body who were present for the closed-door election voted 87-2 in favor of him. Meta's nomination was formally supported by the main left-wing governing Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Eighty-nine lawmakers were present for the vote, and Meta needed at least 71 votes to be elected. A handover ceremony from President Bujar Nishani is expected on July 24.
Meta is leader of the junior governing party, the Socialist Movement for Integration, or LSI, a post which he now must relinquish. He was the only candidate proposed by 23 lawmakers. Candidates must be nominated by at least 20 legislators.
Albania's president occupies a largely ceremonial role and is limited to two five-year terms.
"I will do my utmost, with all of my capacities, to justify the trust you gave ... to (serve) all the Albanian citizens, the constitution of the Republic of Albania, the most important interest linked to the national stability, security and our country's European future," he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Tirana was the first to congratulate Meta, saying Washington was looking "forward to working with Albania's leaders to address the country's challenges and create opportunities for the Albanian people."
Following a request from the parliament administration, vetting authorities declared Meta "clean," meaning he has neither a criminal record nor any links to former communist regime institutions. He's been the parliamentary speaker since 2013 and previously served as prime minister.
Meta acknowledged becoming president had been "unimaginable." As a student in the late 1980s, he only dreamed of becoming a faculty professor, nothing more.
Meta, an economist, started his political life in 1990 as part of a student protest that toppled the country's communist regime. At age 48, he is among the longest-serving politicians in post-communist Albania.
He became the country's youngest-ever prime minister at 30 and also has served as foreign, integration and economy, trade and energy minister.
Meta founded the LSI party in 2004. In a few years, he turned it into a kingmaker in the volatile country's politics.
Though a left-wing grouping, the LSI joined the center-right coalition that ruled Albania in 2009-2013. It has been in a governing alliance with the Socialists since 2013.
Friday's vote followed three failed rounds in which the governing coalition didn't put up a candidate, saying it wanted to include the center-right opposition in reaching a broader consensus.
The opposition has boycotted parliament since February, demanding Rama's resignation before a June 18 parliamentary election and claiming that the sitting Cabinet will manipulate the vote.
European parliamentarians also failed to convince the opposition to change its stance.
Meta appealed to all political parties to do "their utmost for the country's stability (and) legitimacy of the institutions."
Meta is married to Monika Kryemadhi, also a LSI lawmaker, and has two daughters and a son.