PRISTINA -- A partner in Kosovo’s ruling coalition says it will seek a no-confidence vote in parliament against the government, potentially engulfing the small Balkan nation into a political crisis even as it battles along with the rest of the world to curtail the coronavirus pandemic.
Isa Mustafa, the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), said on March 18 that the motion will be filed after the dismissal earlier in the day of Interior Minister Agim Veliu, purportedly for spreading "panic" about coronavirus after he backed a presidential call for a state of emergency over the pandemic.
But Mustafa added that the dismissal was also related to the differences between the coalition partners over whether a 100 percent tariff on goods from neighbor and rival Serbia should be lifted.
Late on March 17, President Hashim Thaci signed a decree on declaring a state of emergency over the coronavirus crisis. It has been sent to Kosovo’s parliament, which has 48 hours to either accept or reject the move.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti has rejected calls for a state of emergency, saying it would cause “unnecessary panic.”
He fired Veliu on March 18, just hours after Veliu said he supported the call, accusing him of spreading "panic."
"At this time, when the entire public administration is making the utmost efforts to minimize the damage caused by the coronavirus, the heads of central institutions, including those in the government cabinet, need to prove maturity both in decision-making and in making statements," Kurti said in his announcement about firing Veliu.
Veliu is from the LDK, which is in a fragile coalition with Kurti's Self-Determination party.
LDK leader Mustafa gave Kurti until the end of the week to “annul the decision to dismiss Veliu and take a decision to abolish the tariffs” on Serbian imports.
Pristina is under huge pressure from the European Union and the United States to revoke the 100 percent import tariff it imposed against Serbia in November 2018.
The tariff came in response to Belgrade's diplomatic campaign to encourage some of the 110-plus countries that have recognized Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008 to reverse their position.
Since taking power, Kurti has resisted removing the tariff and instead has suggested a partial lifting -- something rejected by Thaci as well as the United States, Kosovo’s most important ally.
Richard Grenell, the U.S. special envoy to Kosovo and Serbia, said in a tweet on February 27, that the partial lifting was not enough, calling it a “half measure.”
The LDK had said it would quit the government if the tariff was not "revoked unconditionally."
Despite the political maneuvering, Kurti said that “I still say today that we have LDK as a partner. We want to have the LDK in the ruling coalition."
The LDK would need approval from a majority of deputies in the 120-member parliament, where Kurti has only 29 seats, to bring down the government.
Kosovo says it has confirmed 20 cases of the coronavirus since the first infected person was discovered on March 13.
Most cases concern people who had traveled to nearby Italy or had been in contact with others who had been to Italy.