PRISTINA -- Kosovo's presumed next prime minister has pushed back against a presidential deadline to force his leftist party to end a three-month postelection stalemate within "48 hours" by nominating someone to head the next government.
Self-Determination (Vetevendosje) party leader Albin Kurti told RFE/RL on January 7 that President Hashim Thaci "didn't mention any deadlines" during a "short consultative meeting that cannot have legal effects."
The meeting "lasted less than six minutes," Kurti added.
Kurti's upstart party emerged with a plurality of 26 percent in the October election that upset entrenched allies of Thaci, a former Kosovo Liberation Army commander, but still won just 29 seats in the 120-seat legislature.
Coalition talks with the second-placed finisher, the center-right opposition Democratic League (LDK) with 28 seats, reportedly stalled over government posts and a unified choice to defeat Thaci's likely reelection bid in 2021.
The failure to form a government and Thaci's warning of a "constitutional crisis" highlight the political stakes in Europe's newest state since voters signaled a possible end to more than a decade of leadership from the ranks of former independence fighters.
Kosovo has been recognized by more than 110 states since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008, but continues to face diplomatic and institutional hurdles stemming from nonrecognition by Serbia, Russia, and a handful of European states.
Talks on normalizing diplomatic relations with Serbia were derailed in 2018 by Pristina's imposition of 100-percent tariffs on Serbian goods in response to Belgrade's continued lobbying for countries to reverse their recognition of Kosovo.
International hopes on restarting those talks -- potentially leading to UN recognition for Kosovo and clearing other obstacles -- appear pinned on the next Kosovar government.
Thaci said in November that dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade on normalizing ties should continue "without any conditionality."
After his January 6 meeting with Kurti, Thaci said via social media: "I hope Mr. Kurti within 48 hours may be able to nominate a candidate for PM, since the people, the parliament, our allies are expecting him to do so."
"He may seek further delay, but to great disappointment of people of Kosovo & risk of completely unnecessary constitutional crisis," he added.
Kosovo's constitution sets no specific time limit on proposing a prime ministerial candidate to parliament after elections, but says the president makes the proposal "in consultation" with the party or coalition that won a majority.
Thaci did not say what steps he was considering if no candidate was submitted within two days.
An official in Thaci's office who requested anonymity told RFE/RL on January 7 that "everyone acknowledges the urgency of forming the new government" and said the president's ultimatum was "a political request."
Meanwhile, Self-Determination officials met to decide on a candidate for prime minister but adjourned saying they would try again the next day.
Kurti has described himself as "a future prime minister," and many expect him to emerge in that post atop a coalition with the Democratic League or a minority government with initial Democratic League support.
But reports suggested that the election of a Self-Determination lawmaker as speaker when the new parliament convened on December 26 threatened the coalition talks.
Any new cabinet must also include a representative of the country's ethnic Serb minority, according to the constitution.
Thaci had invited Kurti on multiple occasions to meet to agree on a prime ministerial candidate and pave the way for a new government prior to their short face-to-face on January 6.
Kurti released a video ahead of that meeting calling on the Democratic League to send the names of prospective cabinet members, saying, "There is no more time to waste -- the time that is passing is not private and individual but state and public."
The Democratic League responded by saying it was ready for talks with Self-Determination "on the basis of trust and partnership."
Kosovo has Europe's youngest population at an average age of 29, and economic growth has averaged 4 percent over the past decade. But it remains poor with high unemployment and an exodus of more than 200,000 people since it declared its independence.
Kosovars long complained of corruption and inefficiencies during more than a decade under governments led by the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which placed third in the October voting.