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Kosovan Elections: Fractured Alliances Cast Long Political Shadows

Kosovo declared disputed independence eleven years ago, and its political life has continued to be turbulent. None of its last four parliaments has managed to complete a full four-year term. In 2014, a snap election was called after Kosovo’s political scene became deadlocked over a proposal, which would have seen the semi-military Kosovo Security Force transformed into a regular army. Later, in 2017, the PDK-LDK (ECR/EPP) government collapsed over the controversial border deal with Montenegro which, according to opposition parties, deprived Kosovo of more than 8,000 hectares of its land.

This time the snap election is caused by the resignation of Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (AAK-*) in July this year, after he was summoned for questioning as a suspect by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague, which is probing wartime and post-war crimes in Kosovo. However, some experts argue that the real reason for the coming snap election is pressure over the increased tariff imposed on Serbian goods entering Kosovo.

International recognition and very complicated relations with Serbia traditionally were on the top of the Kosovan political agenda since the official declaration of independence in 2008. However, in a survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute, NDI, in March 2019, less than 10 per cent of citizens listed the dialogue with Serbia as a priority. The reason is the fact that in recent years internal problems are becoming more and more important in Kosovo’s political discourse. For instance, around 25% of Kosovo’s population does not yet have access to clean drinking water, while about 45% of the population has no functional sewage system. Despite these issues, turnout in elections has indeed been low even compared to other Western Balkans countries: in the 2017 parliamentary elections only 41 % of the electorate headed to the polls.

All 120 seats are up for election after no new prime ministerial candidate was found in the unicameral Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo in Pristina. 100 of the 120 seats are elected using open list proportional representation by all voters, with the remaining 20 seats reserved for national and ethnic minorities (10 for Serbians, and 10 distributed between other minorities), who play a significant role in the politics and culture of the state. As a result of this system, coalition governments in Kosovo usually need to seek support among MPs from ethnic minorities, in order to guarantee a majority in the Parliament. In the two previous elections 9 out of 10 Serb seats were won by Srpska Lista (Serb List) (SL-EPP), a party which is supported by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and his SNS (EPP) party. Srpska Lista, although formally part of the current government, froze its participation after the Kosovo authorities imposed a 100% import tariff on Serbia goods in November 2018. This time the Belgrade-backed party is mainly challenged by a coalition of three anti-Vučić Kosovo-Serb parties. 

A large question mark over these elections was whether the two largest opposition parties – LDK (EPP) and LVV (S&D) – would agree to form a joint list for the upcoming election. The main reason for these talks was the fact that, according to Kosovan law, a party or coalition that gets the largest share of the vote always has the first chance to present a candidate for Prime Minister. The negotiations between LDK and LVV lasted for several weeks but then failed over the question of who the potential coalition’s candidate for Prime Minister would be: LVV’s Albin Kurti or LDK’s Vjosa Osmani.

Recognised by 100 of 193 United Nations member states and 23 of 27 EU member states, but not EU candidate nation Serbia, from which Kosovo seceded, elections here are being watched carefully by all major geopolitical players. A European Union Election Observation Mission has been sent to Kosovo as part of a “commitment to supporting Kosovo’s democratic process”, outgoing EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

There are five main parties and coalitions competing in this election:

Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK-ECR)

National-conservative Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK-ECR) has constantly been part of the governing coalitions since Kosovo declared independence in 2008. In the previous parliamentary election in 2017 PDK ran in coalition with AAK (*) and NISMA (RE). However, this time all three parties are running in different blocks.

Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK-EPP)

The oldest political party in Kosovo, centre-right LDK, is famous for its 1990s president Ibrahim Rugova, who is known also as “Gandhi of the Balkans”. Since Kosovo’s 2008 independence, it has ended up taking the second place in all elections, sometimes leading it to the government, but in the latest 2017 election leaving it in opposition. It is the only party in this race nominating a woman, Vjosa Osmani, as their candidate for Prime Minister.

Self-Determination Movement (LVV-S&D)

The Self-Determination Movement (LVV-S&D) is a left nationalist party, led by Albin Kurti, who came to prominence as the main organiser of non-violent demonstrations in 1997 and 1998 against Yugoslav rule in Kosovo. The party opposes most of the bilateral agreements with Serbia and privatisation of public companies, and it is critical of the strong presence of the international community in Kosovo. It also advocates the unification of Albania and Kosovo.

Alliance for the Future of Kosovo / Social Democratic Party (AAK/PSD-*)

“100%” will be the slogan of the coalition between national-conservative Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK-*) and centre-left Social Democratic Party (PSD-*) – a reference to the imposition of a 100% tariff on Serbian goods entering Kosovo initiated by Ramush Haradinaj’s government in November 2018, which both parties have pledged their support for.

However, on decisions for the future, the two parties are seemingly more divided. The “Dukagjini” highway, set to cost around one billion euros has been described as top of Haradinaj’s list of priorities, while PSD leader Shpend Ahmeti has openly stated that the motorway is not a priority for his party.

Social Democratic Initiative / New Kosovo Alliance / Justice Party (NISMA/AKR/PD-RE)

Another coalition running in this election has been made between centre-left Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA-*) and liberal New Kosovo Alliance (AKR-RE) – again two parties with seemingly divergent ideologies. NISMA declares itself as a social-democratic party, while AKR is a party focussed on commerce under the leadership of multi-millionaire businessman Behgjet Pacolli. The third partner in this alliance – religious conservative Justice Party (PD-*) – is a minor party, which plays a less significant role.

Kosovans will head to the polls on Sunday 06 October. Follow Europe Elects across social media for all the latest breaking news for elections in Kosovo and beyond.

(Euan Healey was a contributing editor to this article.)

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