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Pre-election overview from Kosovo, 2010

Dec. 10 — About 1,6 million Kosovo citizens are being called to turn out for snap parliamentary elections on December 12 2010, which will be a huge test for the country’s – constantly reshaping – party system. The main players seem to be stabilizing their positions and getting themselves embedded into Kosovar society and public life but the possible newcomers might redraw the picture up until a certain extent. More than a decade after the UN intervention democracy and rule of law are put forward in Kosovo and the elections would be another great test to measure how the situation has developed since the last political contest.

The way to snap elections

Kosovo is holding premature elections because of the crisis that ensued from Fatmir Sejdiu having to step down as president because of his dual roles as head of state and leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) party were ruled in September 2010 by the Constitutional Court to be incompatible with the constitution. Sejdiu took his party out of the governing coalition, and PDK leader Hashim Thaci’s government survived only briefly before losing a motion of no confidence in the assembly. Sejdiu was voted out as LDK leader in November, to be replaced by Pristina mayor Isa Mustafa.

Kosovo is formally recognized by 72 United Nations member countries, including 22 European Union member states until now. The International Court of Justice ruled this year that the declaration did not violate international law. The parliamentary elections are organized for the first time in the history of Kosovo since the country proclaimed independence in 2008. Kosovo’s Central Election Commission has certified 29 parties and 1,265 candidates to the run-up of gaining positions into the unicameral Assembly of Kosovo. It is reported that at least 23 thousand persons will monitor the elections on the election day.

A few days before the December 12 elections, an opinion poll by the Foreign Policy Club showed that the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) managed to get the first place, having 30 percent support, a mere two percent ahead of the LDK, with the Vetevendosje (’Self-Determination’) party in third place with 16 percent. According to the poll, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) was fourth with 12 percent, followed by the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) with seven percent, and FER (’New Spirit’) with six percent. However, with PDK was seen as slightly ahead, Mustafa was said to have a personal popularity that pipped that of Thaci.

Belgrade adamantly rejects Kosovo’s independence and from the Serbian capital, a range of voices – including those of the government and of the Serbian Orthodox Church – have urged ethnic Serbs to shun the Kosovo elections. Notwithstanding the calls from Belgrade, some Serbian parties have registered to take part in the December 12 election. Of the 120 seats in the Kosovo assembly, 10 are reserved for ethnic Serbs and 10 for members of other minorities. The proportion of participating Kosovo Serbs in this year’s parliamentary elections is rather uncertain.

Kosovars’ main options

Turning to the exact party politics and possible scenarios, we should note that Hashim Thaci’s PDK is on the lead and it looks like that no other party will be able to come in front of it. The PDK, considered to be the main leftist party of Kosovo, at first glance is in a favorable situation. It gave the current PM, some groups of Serbs who are planning to take part in the elections announced their support for the leader of the PDK after the elections and the LDK – the main adversary of the PDK – was not able to renew its image despite many efforts. The leader of the party and current PM of Kosovo only two weeks ago promised a 50 percent salary increase for teachers, a 30 percent increase for other civil servants and a 20+20 percent increase – one in next January and one in June – for members of the police. If these decisions will be enacted, they would give at least a further 100 million to the payroll – this would mean seven percent of Kosovo’s total budget for next year. In addition, the PM also promised to remove VAT for university students while private colleges will be freed from income tax. Interestingly, the PDK campaigns with city posters saying ‘no to populism’.

Thaci also advocated the idea of a ‘clean government’, which many Kosovars want to see after the elections. Touching the negotiations with Serbia, he stated in an interview that Kosovo does not want UN officials to mediate the upcoming talks with Serbia, Kosovo is a sovereign state which is capable of negotiating and expressing its own opinion and interests. Thaci also tried to promote the PDK’s Euro-Atlanticist commitment and mentioned one of the key issues which interests many Kosovars and this is the visa liberalisation into the Schengen Area. Kosovo remained the only the country on the Balkans from this December whose citizens still need to obtain a visa if they want to visit a Schengen country for less than 90 days. The party leader promised that if his party will get into the government they will need less than 15 months to get visa-free access into the Schengen Zone, which encompasses mainly EU states. These remarks are quite unusual because usually countries pursuing the policy towards Schengen visa liberalization are invited in a way to join this club and get measured according to their preparedness if they are ready for this, or not.

The LDK, which was not at all a calm coalition partner during the last years, under the leadership of Isa Mustafa is expected to distance itself more from the PDK and try to find its own way to get back to government without the current PM but possibly has lost some of its previous supporters. With Mustafa at the wheel of Kosovo’s main center-right, conservative-liberal political force, the party’s participation in a possible PDK-led government seems less and less sure now. The new leader, first seemed to revitalize the party with new faces but the leadership basically remained the same. A second bad decision was to not keep the son of Ibrahim Rugova, Uke Rugova, in the party. Rugova Junior is seen as a young, charismatic and talented politician in the eyes of many Kosovars and if he had stayed in the LDK the party could have increased its support notably even before the campaign.

Mustafa said in an interview after the start of the campaign that a honest government is needed to govern Kosovo, with stable economic growth. The president of the LDK also focused on EU integration as one of the targets of Kosovo as well as to increase the prestige of Kosovo both in Europe and on the global level. Mustafa did not neglect Thaci’s comments on visa liberalization: he vowed for this issue too and promised an increased fight against organised crime and corruption.

The AKR currently is the third biggest political force in the Assembly of Kosovo. The party’s ideology is centred around liberalism and strong emphasis on free market economy – due to its business connections. Its founder and leader is Behgjet Isa Pacolli managed to gather seven political forces together to form this coalition. The businessman-politician refused to enter into a pre-election coalition with the PDK because the politician is calculating that with distancing itself from the PDK it will have more space to maneuver after the poll. The AKR elected Mimoza Kusari-Lila, a woman – an unusual move in Kosovo – to be the party’s PM candidate.

The party also focuses much on economic growth and new jobs, but it also explicitly addresses the need for better education, health care and there is a huge emphasis on strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo. The leader of the party also stated that the image of Kosovo in Europe and on a global level should be improved and through his party this could be very much achieved.

The AAK is considered to be the second or third biggest centre-right party of Kosovo, with neoliberal tendencies. As the party’s leader, Ramush Haradinaj was abroad, facing a trial and not able to participate in the elections campaign, a relatively new and charismatic face was needed to be drawn into the party leadership to strengthen the party’s support and attract more voters. The choice fell on Uke Rugova, who was already dissatisfied with the current LDK leadership and had longstanding disputes with the previous president of the party, Fatmir Sejdiu. Rugova – and the Rugova family – is still influential in Kosovo where Ibrahim Rugova is the symbol of the peaceful struggle against the Serbs and Kosovo’s self-determination. The ambitious Rugova Junior first established a separate list called LDK-  Ibrahim Rugova claiming that he is still running under the flag of the LDK but due to personal disagreements he will not want to participate in the party’s moves directly. However, in mid-November it was announced that Rugova joined AAK – by integrating LDK-Ibrahim Rugova into Haradinaj’s party. Since that time Rugova Junior is seen as the leader of the unified block. The AAK is considered to be one of the possible surprises of the elections because of Rugova’s appearance, although, his effect as the campaign leader on the AAK’s support is not really measurable.

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About the Author

Gergely Nagy is currently studying at the Charles University, Prague (MA in International Economic and Political Sciences). Previous experiences: Amnesty International Hungary (Advocacy Officier), Hungarian and Czech think tanks (Research Assistant). He works as Deputy Editor-in-Chief for Western Balkan Issues at the Balkan Press Agency.