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Yugoslavia: Voters In Kosovo Reaffirm Backing For Rugova's Moderate LDK

Preliminary results from the 17 November parliamentary elections in Kosovo are due out later today. Ibrahim Rugova yesterday claimed victory for his moderate Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which exit polls say won nearly half the vote.

Pristina, 19 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- By European political standards, Kosovo is an anomaly. The province's Social Democratic party (PSDK) and Christian Democratic party (PShDK) are extraordinarily weak. Exit polls suggest neither is likely to have won much more than 1 percent of the vote, and at best each would have just one deputy of the 120 in the new provisional parliament.

Instead, voters reaffirmed their traditional backing for Ibrahim Rugova's relatively moderate Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and once again gave Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) distant second and third places. Exit polls suggest the LDK won between 44 and 48 percent of the vote.

LDK was founded in 1989 and, led by Rugova, it won unofficial, parallel elections in the 1990s, with Rugova twice being elected president of Kosovo's Albanians. The party is known for its pacifist stand in the decade after Belgrade abolished the province's autonomy in 1989. The exit polls give Thaci's PDK 23 to 28 percent and Haradinaj's AAK 7 to 8 percent.

Kosovar international law expert and political analyst Blerim Reka says no one has an answer yet for the LDK's continued popularity: "Maybe the answer we have to find is in the traditionalism of Kosovo society and in the traditionalism of politics in Kosovo. This will be the first answer. The second is that the results of the first local [municipal] elections [last year] also influenced the results of the central elections, but this is a more hypothetical, more speculative answer."

Reka says the biggest surprise of the election is that Haradinaj's AAK did so poorly, despite having run a well-articulated campaign, occupying the media spotlight with his campaign appearances in small Albanian enclaves in Serb-majority areas, and making repeated calls for ethnic tolerance that seemed calculated to please the international community.

Kosovo's central bank chief, Ajri Begu, says he is not worried that one-third of registered Albanian voters did not vote, since of the province's 2 million inhabitants, 300,000 to 500,000 Kosovar Albanians registered in Kosovo currently work or live abroad.

"The message that the voters gave through this peaceful, excellent, remarkable election is the answer itself. They voted actually for Kosovo, and of course for the leaders that they believe can solve the main problem, which is the independence of Kosovo.... Independence of Kosovo is not only a word but is the question of 'to be or not to be,' because if you are not independent, even in your house, you cannot solve your problems. So independence is a question of future, of prosperity of the economy, a question of life."

Many of the LDK's national and local leaders and advisors were the targets of assassination attempts before, during, and after the NATO bombing campaign. One theory is that the party's domestic political opponents, lacking the intellectual qualities of the LDK and thus at a disadvantage in competition, sought to even the playing field by eliminating key advisors to Rugova, as well as some of the party's municipal leaders.

Rugova remained under Serb house arrest in Pristina during NATO's bombing campaign and was eventually brought to Belgrade, where he was shown to the news media shaking hands with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and signing a declaration calling on NATO to end its air strikes on Yugoslavia. In early May 1999, more than halfway through the 78-day NATO bombing campaign, Belgrade allowed Rugova to go into exile in Italy.

Although many Kosovar Albanians, foreign analysts, and diplomats wrote off Rugova as "history," he made a dramatic return to Kosovo after the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo. His movement won last year's communal (local) elections and has now staged a repeat performance.

Rugova is the LDK's candidate for president of Kosovo, but it is far from clear whether deputies from other Albanian parties will vote for him. To win in the first two rounds of voting, a candidate must win a two-thirds majority, while in the third round 51 percent of the vote is enough.

As Rugova noted at a news conference yesterday, the president appoints a prime minister, who in turn forms a cabinet of nine ministers: "First we have to elect the president, and the president in consultation with the other political parties will appoint the prime minister."

If Rugova's LDK proves to have won less than 50 percent of the vote, then it will either form a grand coalition or else a coalition with Thaci's PDK or Haradinaj's AAK. Both Thaci and Haradinaj were commanders in the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which was disbanded after the Serb withdrawal. As all Kosovar Albanian parties, they favor independence.

Rugova yesterday again urged the U.S. and the European Union to "recognize formally Kosovo's independence because Kosovo is already independent." His statement on independence has enraged those Serbs who urged a boycott of the elections and who are now saying, "We told you so."

The UN's chief administrator in Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup, insists the elections were a first step toward defining Kosovo's status but that much will now depend on the political maturity of the people of Kosovo and how his constitutional framework for Kosovo's provisional self-government will be implemented.

Last May, when the UN's chief administrator issued the constitutional framework, Thaci refused to back the document. Now he says he favors a "compromise."

"Free elections are important, but so, too, is finding a compromise after the free elections for a good government, an effective government. And we consider the international community to be a partner. We don't want to be in confrontation with UNMIK [the United Nation's Mission in Kosovo]. And I think we can establish a new reality -- the independence of Kosovo, coordinated [with the international community] so that they accept it."

Haradinaj, who insists that his party is more realistic, stable, and sincere than Thaci's PDK, says he, too, is disappointed with Haekkerup's constitutional framework.

"We were in favor of having more space for showing how efficient, how good we are in administering Kosovo. We were disappointed that the international community didn't trust us more. We were sure that in May, when the constitutional framework was approved, it was possible to trust us more, to give us more juridical and political space. But we saw the Constitutional Framework Agreement at that time as a good opportunity to show how good we are."

Haradinaj says the framework constitution, while an interim measure, is also an opportunity for Kosovo's parties to prove their responsibility in dealing with human rights and minorities.

International law expert Reka was a co-author of the constitutional framework. "According to the constitutional framework, the authority of parliament, of government, of the president of Kosovo will be very reduced (limited) because the classical state competencies and power will be in the hands of the [UN chief administrator] -- I mean foreign affairs, security issues, monetary policy, and even part of the judiciary. Formally speaking, constitutionally, we will have a parliament, president, and government. But the main responsibility will still be in the hands of the [UN chief administrator]."

That is because the head of the UN administration can block or repeal any law. For example, a declaration of independence.