In Kosovo, analysts are wondering why one-third of the Kosovar Albanian electorate failed to cast ballots on 17 November to elect a National Assembly, the first such free elections in the province since Serb forces withdrew in June 1999. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele reports from Gjakova in western Kosovo.
Gjakova, 22 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Kosovo's three main Albanian political parties campaigned on similar platforms of independence for the UN-administered province.
But the chief UN administrator, Hans Haekkerup, has repeatedly emphasized that "Kosovo's final status will be decided at a later time and was not part of these elections." Moreover, Haekkerup recently warned that "declaring independence is not within the powers of the assembly, so it will never get on the agenda."
Haekkerup has the power to repeal or block legislation passed by the newly elected parliament.
One in three registered Kosovar Albanian voters failed to cast ballots in the general election on 17 November. The international community says large numbers of registered voters were abroad and were unable to file absentee ballots. Political analysts say it is highly unlikely that one in three registered voters is really working or living abroad.
Many people may not have voted precisely because of Haekkerup's repeated warning that independence is not in the cards, as well as out of frustration that the big parties were using independence as a smokescreen for the absence of adequate party platforms.
Martin Dvorak is the UN municipal administrator for Gjakova, a market town in the west of the province. Dvorak is the former mayor of the Czech city of Hradec Kralove and has been a UN administrator in Kosovo for the past two years.
Dvorak says that while Ibrahim Rugova's relatively moderate Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, took a strong first place with some 46 percent of the vote -- ahead of the somewhat more radical Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) -- Rugova's LDK did not score as well as it did in last year's communal elections.
Dvorak says there may be a number of reasons for the LDK's apparent decline in popularity: "One of the reasons can be the low voter turnout [among Albanians] by those that assumed Rugova would win and would declare independence regardless of whether they went or not. Another possible reason is the much greater participation of minority voters, especially the Serb minority, than last year. Of course, that affects the results."
However, Dvorak -- who says he watched in amazement as a top LDK municipal official in Gjakova failed to show up for a key debate, saying his party would win no matter what -- says the LDK must take a large share of the blame for growing voter apathy.
"But, personally, I think the reason is also the result of people being confronted for the past year with the work of LDK deputies in individual communities. Either they are satisfied or dissatisfied with their mayor, and accordingly, they modify their views of the LDK. I think that the LDK was too relaxed and rested on its laurels after the previous elections, while the leaders of other parties worked feverishly and really devoted plenty of time and energy, while the LDK kept counting on an automatic victory."
Dvorak says the LDK's analysts are probably trying to figure out how to respond to the situation: "All of a sudden, Rugova has to find a coalition partner, not only so he can be elected president but for governing. It'll be interesting to watch how these apprentices of democracy quickly learn how one is really supposed to work in a democracy -- how to make compromises, how to put a coalition together, who will be in the opposition and how to behave."
Sali Caca is the LDK's deputy chairman in the neighboring municipality of Decani. He says the drop in support for the LDK is evident and the party needs to analyze this decline. But he says the party's program is not the problem since it is "moderate, extensive, offering all possible conditions of Kosovo in all fields."
"No, I think that the voter turnout can be explained by other reasons. I think one reason was the negative impact of last year's municipal elections, when some people had to wait for up to 10 hours on line to vote. This year, the elections were much better organized, but unfortunately, due to last year's bad experience, many people chose not to vote this time."
Caca says one of the other reasons were the misconceptions of some party workers in dealing with the voting public. "Parties across the political spectrum obviously haven't attracted enough people to come and vote," he adds.
In addition, he says, existential problems, like widespread cuts in electricity and water supplies across Kosovo, have contributed to a loss of interest in political issues among some people.
Adem Demaci is a former political prisoner and a leading human rights activist who was the political representative of the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK, in 1998 and 1999.
Demaci, who lives in the western city of Prizren but who teaches in Pristina, says a new mentality exists in Kosovo today now that nearly two and a half years after the withdrawal of Serb forces, people are able to judge the work done by the main parties in jointly administering the province with the international community. And Demaci says Serb voters were manipulated, and it remains unclear who cast ballots in Serbia and Montenegro.
Moreover, he says, it is clear to everyone that, despite the Albanian parties' calls for independence, they have no authority to do so: "The parliament elected in this vote will not have any more rights than a municipal council has. It's nothing more than window-dressing with no competence. Everybody knows that the issue of independence of Kosovo cannot be part of the agenda of parliament. We know that even the agenda of parliament in future has to be signed by Haekkerup, so this issue cannot be raised legally. So all these promises that voters were given during the campaign were just empty words."
Hajredin Kuqi is the deputy chairman of Hashim Thaci's PDK, which came in second in the elections with 25 percent of the vote. He divides his time between the western city of Peja and Pristina, where he works in the rectorate of Pristina University.
Kuqi says the PDK expected greater support in view of the effort he says the party put into the campaign: "But in this respect, we will respect the will of the people of Kosovo. I hope that at this time, people will try to find a clear identity. Maybe more or less we have 37 percent of the people who didn't vote this time, and maybe they are waiting for new values, a new approach to politics."
While the LDK enjoys widespread support, the PDK's support is concentrated in the central Drenica region, the birthplace of the 1998-99 rebellion. Similarly, the third Albanian party, Ramush Haradinaj's AAK, derives much of its support from Haradinaj's native Dukagjin region in the west of the province. Hence, their power base is relatively stable.
Kuqi reiterates the PDK line that it favors formation of a grand coalition of the three main Albanian parties -- the LDK, PDK, and AAK. Nevertheless, he says, the PDK has no qualms about going into the opposition and would respect any coalition that is formed.