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Early Elections Could Be A Serious Test For Europe’s Youngest Democracy

Kosovo declared independence in 2008
Kosovo declared independence in 2008
At the moment, Kosovo neither has a president nor a complete acting government. On October 18, the coalition of the Democratic Party (PDK) and the Democratic League (LDK) clashed. All ministers of the LDK resigned. Ministries are currently run by deputy ministers or permanent secretaries. An emergency meeting of parliament is scheduled for October 28, and it is expected the parliamentary session will lead to a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Thaci.

As a result, Kosovo’s legislative body would be dissolved. New elections will need to be held after 45 days -- in early December. The formation of an interim government is also possible.

Whether quick extraordinary elections will take place is still unclear. Kosovo’s budget for next year has not been approved yet. Thaci risks being blamed for any delay in public-sector salaries, social payments, and pensions. Economists fear that failure to adopt a budget could lead the country into financial chaos, stopping economic development and causing social unrest.

There are various explanations for the breakdown of the coalition. The LDK’s frustration with the prime minister’s decisions has been growing for some time. The pact between the parties was formed in 2007 after LDK first lost its place as the strongest political force of Albanians in Kosovo. Founded as the party of Ibrahim Rugova, himself the symbolic personification of the peaceful Albanian resistance to Belgrade, the league could never settle into the unfamiliar role of junior partner.

One recent point of contention between the parties was the dispute over the sale of the public post and telecommunications company. PDK pushed the privatization through parliament in April, though only 50 out of 120 deputies were present. The majority was absent out of protest, as there have been differences about the details of the privatization strategy. Commenting on the move, LDK leader Fatmir Sejdiu said: “This is a decision not made because of a caprice, but a decision that expresses clearly the position that the LDK wants to be an equal partner in decisions for Kosovo.”

The parliamentary session on the privatization act already prompted a scandal: the president of the assembly, Jakub Krasniqi, opposed the vote due to constitutional concerns. As a reaction, Thaci stormed to Krasniqi, pressuring him to proceed with the adoption of the law, which Krasniqi then agreed to do. On October 14, however, Krasniqi refused to promulgate the privatization act.

Beneath the surface, Krasniqi and Thaci are struggling with internal battles, as both belong to the same political faction. Since the resignation of President Fatmir Sejdiu last month, Krasniqi is also acting president of the country. Sejdiu had to leave his office after a Constitutional Court ruling that it was unconstitutional to be a party leader and the president of the country simultaneously.

Post-War Dilemma

The race between Kosovo’s political parties has begun. Some political analysts predict that the PDK will again gain a majority of the votes in any early elections. The PDK is Kosovo’s largest political party, including many members of the former Liberation Army UCK. The country faces a dilemma as the conservative part of society is reluctant to turn against their war heroes who fought for the independence of the country. Voters tend to keep their loyalty, though frustration among the population about the lack of reform has intensified in recent months.

Within the LDK, the candidacy of former President Sejdiu is uncertain. Pristina Mayor Isa Mustafa is expected to run for the party leadership, and he is perceived as more charismatic than Sejdiu. Like former Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi, who could also succeed Sejdiu as president, the capital’s mayor opposes a coalition with Thaci’s party. But the hypothesis that the elections could help LDK improve its position is doubtful.

The party is divided into several wings, none of which has a sound plan. A possible future coalition partner for the PDK could be the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), which is the third-largest opposition party. Its leader, Behgjet Pacolli, called for a coalition of all opposition parties. Nevertheless, though Pacolli had been ardently arguing against the government, the chance to get a share of power could be too tempting. Rumors about a PDK-AKR alliance are in the air.

Another strong opponent is the left-wing movement Vetevendosje, which will be participating in parliamentary elections for the first time. Vetevendosje advocates a general policy transformation and full self-determination for the country. “Everything that is happening, accusations and counteraccusations, are for more power, and not for state,” movement leader Albin Kurti said in an interview with the Kosovo-Albanian newspaper “Express.” “Kosovo needs big political and economic changes, but also another kind of political culture.”

Kosovo’s newest political party Fryma e Re, which literally means New Spirit, has also sparked interest. Established by a group of energetic U.S.-educated think-tank analysts, the party aims to fight corruption and work toward social improvements. “We did not expect the state of Kosovo would so quickly turn into a country where basic welfare is a luxury, where sincerity is not paid off, where the law is mercilessly violated by those in power, and where citizens live in anxiety over the future of their children,” says the party in its latest press release.

“What new crisis? Have we been ever out of one?” is a common joke in Pristina these days. Once again Kosovo is paralyzed by internal disturbances. Talks between Kosovo and Serbia are on hold. Recently U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton traveled to both capitals to urge dialogue for a durable solution. Urgent questions about missing persons, returnees, customs, trade, and freedom of movement are still unresolved. Though the International Court of Justice stated in July that Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 did not violate international law, Belgrade still claims Kosovo as a province of Serbia.

Kosovo’s internal politics have been shaken up once again. As a downside, new parties have little time to prepare their election campaigns. Kosovo’s Central Election Commission and several election-monitoring groups stated that they see serious challenges for the upcoming polls. Recent Kosovo ballots have been tarred with accusations of election fraud.

Security concerns, however, are low. An eruption of violence between faction supporters is unlikely, and Kosovo is still safeguarded by around 10.000 NATO KFOR soldiers.

Will this disruption ultimately strengthen Kosovo’s democracy? Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell. On a positive note, Europe’s youngest country could prove that it is a fully functioning state capable of working through such situations in a peaceful, orderly manner. Over the long run, this momentum could result in greater stability for Kosovo, though it may be hard to see that just now.

Martin Waehlisch is a political and legal analyst, currently based in Pristina, Kosovo. He is a senior researcher at the Center for Peace Mediation at the European University Viadrina and the Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance in Berlin, as well as a research fellow at the American University in Kosovo. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.