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Kosovo's New President: A Political Novice With Broad Support

  • Arbana Vidishiqi

Newly elected President Atifete Jahjaga addresses parliament in Pristina on April 7.

Newly elected President Atifete Jahjaga addresses parliament in Pristina on April 7.

PRISTINA -- Kosovo's highest-ranking policewoman and a political unknown, Atifete Jahjaga, this week became that country's third president in seven months. Her age, 36, also makes her the youngest serving head of state in Europe.

Jahjaga replaced Behgjet Pacolli, a multimillionaire whose election on February 22 was overturned by the Constitutional Court as illegal.

Her election by parliament followed marathon negotiations between Kosovo's governing coalition and the leading opposition party, mediated by U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell.

Compromise Candidate

Addressing lawmakers after her election, Jahjaga pledged that she would strive to represent all of Kosovo's citizens.

"As president, I will be a guarantor of the constitution and the law, a unifying factor, politically neutral, and will protect the interests of a sovereign and independent Kosovo," Jahjaga said, "as well as being a representative of all Kosovo citizens, regardless of their nationality, religion, race or gender."

Jahjaga was backed by 80 of the 100 lawmakers present in the 120-seat legislature for the vote. She easily defeated her only rival, Suzana Novoberdaliu, who garnered just 10 votes.

She will serve for one year until parliament amends the constitution to allow for the direct election of the president.

A Top Cop

Politically unknown until she emerged as a surprise consensus candidate, Jahjaga previously served as Kosovo's deputy police chief, earning widespread praise. She began working as a uniformed police officer after Kosovo's 1998-99 war ended and rose through the ranks to become a general.

After earning a law degree from Pristina University, she attended training sessions with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI.

She has no party affiliation, but nevertheless enters office with broad political support.

Jahjaga won the backing of the Democratic Party (PDK) and its junior coalition partner, the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), as well as the opposition Democratic League (LDK).

Just one opposition party, the Self-Determination Movement, which holds just 14 seats in parliament, walked out in protest at her candidacy.

'Important Symbol'

In a country notorious for high-level corruption, Jahjaga, who is married with no children, is notable for her modest background. According to Kosovo's Anticorruption Agency, her assets consist of an automobile worth $8,600. Until assuming office, she rented an apartment in Pristina.

Dell, the U.S. ambassador, called Jahjaga "an important symbol of the country's commitment to justice" who "has earned the admiration and respect of everyone who has worked with her, from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to hundreds of American policemen and policewomen who have been proud to serve with her over the last 11 years."

Some observers say Jahjaga's lack of party affiliation could turn out to be a liability, and others complain that her election was imposed on Kosovo by the international community.

Jahjaga's election follows a political crisis that erupted when the Constitutional Court ruled Pacolli's election illegal because the parliament lacked a quorum due to an opposition walkout.

with agency material