Elections to pick a new head of state to replace Alfred Moisiu, whose mandate as president ends on July 24, had already been postponed several times because of political bickering.

Topi, a 50-year-old biology professor and deputy president of the Democratic party of Sali Berisha, Albania's prime minister, will succeed Moisiu for a five-year mandate.

Under the Albanian constitution, a candidate has to win support from three-fifths of deputies in the 140-seat parliament, or 84 votes.

If a president is not elected in five rounds of voting, parliament must be dissolved and early elections held.

Delays

This was the fourth attempt by the Albanian parliament to elect a new head of state, as Berisha's party and the opposition Socialist Party of Tirana mayor, Edi Rama, have for months failed to agree on a presidential candidate.

The opposition had demanded the ruling party withdraw Topi's candidacy, insisting a future president should be from the left-wing bloc as Moisiu had been a right-wing candidate.

The Socialists and their allies had urged their MPs to boycott the vote, but at least seven did not adhere to the calls.

After the session, Berisha said: "I want to thank all deputies who have taken part in the vote to avoid the risk that early elections could bring to Albania."