LOCAL ELECTION IN KOSOVO:
The first local election in Kosovo since the country proclaimed its independence on 17 February 2008 is scheduled for 15 November 2009. Voters in Kosovo will choose mayors and deputies for local assemblies who will run 33 municipalities for the next four years.
74 political parties and citizens’ movements are taking part in the ballot including independent lists and lists of ethnic minority communities. They comprise 35 Kosovo Albanian and 23 Serbian “political entities”. EU special representative in Kosovo Pieter Feith stated that after the election three new municipalities (Gračanica, Klokot and Ranilug) and the enlarged municipality of Novo Brdo would be established, which might further encourage the Serbian minority in their aspirations for decentralisation. According to the peace mediator Martti Ahtisaari’s plan Kosovo should have 38 municipalities. The election will not be held in the municipalities of North Mitrovica and Parteš, which should become new municipalities according to the plan. In the municipalities of Gračanica, Klokot and Ranilug the election process will be the same as in all other municipalities.
THE CRUCIAL PHASE OF DEMOCRATISATION
The newly established state of Kosovo is going through the crucial phase of democratisation. For several years elections in Kosovo were organised under the wings of the international community. Today the situation is different.
For the first time after it proclaimed independence on 17 February 2008, the Republic of Kosovo is to organise local election as an independent and sovereign state.
The forthcoming election is of unprecedented importance for Kosovo. The attention of the whole international community is focused on this state: Will Kosovo succeed in organising free and fair local election? The election process will therefore be supervised by numerous international community and OSCE representatives.
However, Kosovo citizens are showing a declining interest in participating at the election. The reasons are numerous, from constant postponing of the status of independence and the patronising attitude of UNMIK towards Kosovo citizens and institutions to the idle activities of the current government which are unsatisfactory for both the Albanians and the minority ethnic communities. Kosovo’s government has failed to take appropriate action to fight organised crime and corruption and to improve the living standard, most of the media are controlled by the governing elite and political parties, and the fundamental human rights are still at a very low level, especially when it comes to ethnic minorities. The slow process of recognising the state of Kosovo and the lacking activities on the part of Kosovo’s government in order to accelerate that process have led to the political apathy among the voters.
Analysts have warned that Kosovo’s government often elides the fact that Kosovo’s independence is conditional and internationally controlled and that the recognition of Kosovo’s independence will depend on the performance of the government and on events in the field. However, in case of Kosovo it is both its government and the international community that have failed the latter due to inadequately supervising the state’s independence.
THE RULING PDK AND THE OPPOSITION AAK VIOLATED THE ELECTION ACT
During the pre-election campaign all the political parties participating at the election, including a large number of Serb parties, prepared for the election race. Some of the parties openly violated election rules, starting their campaign much earlier than allowed. The official launch of the election campaign was 15 October. However, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) led by Hashim Thaçi and the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) headed by the former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj started their campaigns much earlier through television spots, posters and billboards.
PDK and AAK have thus violated the law and according to the election act the parties and candidates are to be penalised for such violations. However, Kosovo’s electoral commission continues to ignore those violations.
BATTLE FOR THE CAPITAL
As expected, the main political battle will be fought for the capital city of Priština. One quarter of Kosovo’s population lives in the capital. Priština is regarded as the main bastion of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the party of the current Kosovo’s president Fatmir Sejdi and the former leader of Kosovo Albanians Ibrahim Rugova.
The ruling Thaçi’s PDK had many difficulties in nominating the candidate for Priština’s mayor who would be able to compete with the successful LDK’s mayor Isa Mustafa.
PDK is very eager to win this position in Priština, especially after two successive defeats at previous local elections. In both cases they lost the ballot in Priština with a crushing defeat of the current Minister of transport and communication and PDK Vice President Fatmir Limaj, known to the public as the released Hague war crimes suspect. Moreover, he was in both cases defeated by LDK.
This time PDK or, more precisely, Hashim Thaçi decided to nominate his advisor and professor of philosophy Astrit Salihu. However, Astrit Salihu has limited chances to compete the incumbent mayor Isa Mustafi (LDK) since he lacks the experience and has not shown any outstanding results in his previous work
The candidates of other major parties such as AAK and Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AKR) are rather unknown to the public and not enough experienced to lead the capital during its future crucial phases of development.
LDK – A BIG COME BACK
In other municipalitiesthe situation is somewhat different. The parties decided to join the race with the candidates who were nominated at previous elections or who hold high positions in their parties. Serious political changes may be expected in some of the large cities. In the split city of Mitrovica the current mayor Bajram Rexhepi (PDK) decided not to run for the second term of office due to low support among the citizens caused by the economic stagnation, aggravating social crisis and political problems in the city.
Due to internal conflicts between PDK’s presidency and a few of its municipal committees some candidates represent a threat to the party and are additionally weakening its position. Moreover, in some larger towns which are currently led by PDK the voters will turn their back on PDK due to its unsatisfactory work and unfulfilled promises.
On the basis of the public opinion survey the IFIMES International Institute has concluded that changes in the leadership of certain municipalities are inevitable. LDK is expected to make a big comeback in the municipalities where it has been traditionally supported by the citizens and where it was defeated at 2007 election. Thus, LKD’s candidates are expected to win the race in Prizren, Mitrovica, Peć and Gnjilane.
Minor changes may be expected in the regions where the citizens are traditionally in favour of other parties, such as PDK in Drenica and AAK in the region of Dukagjin (Metohia).
The election race will be most fierce in large urban centres where it will significantly affect the decomposition of authorities at the state level.
The turnout of voters will be of critical importance for the final election results as well as for the consolidation of democracy in Kosovo both in the interior and international sphere.
CORRUPTION WITHIN PDK
The citizens are visibly dissatisfied and frustrated with PDK’s running of the state. At the local level PDK is facing corruption scandals as two of its mayors (municipalities of Skënderaj and Kaçanik) were arrested on corruption charges. As a consequence the EU decided to “freeze” the funds for Skënderaj until some serious measures are taken to eliminate corruption.
PDK is daily losing support at the state level. Corruption was probably the reason why some foreign consortia withdrew their offer for the construction of “Kosova e Re“, the largest power plant in Kosovo. The tender was expected to be awarded to a Czech energy group ČEZ, whose representative in Kosovo happens to be Bajram Rexhepi, the current mayor of Mitrovica and PDK Vice President.
PDK’s position has been additionally weakened by the Minister of transport and communication Fatmir Limaj who is facing money laundering charges after his wife and one of his relatives were caught with millions of Euros in their luggage as they were trying to bring large amounts of cash out of Kosovo.
The IFIMES International Institute is of the opinion that the forthcoming election will be of immense importance not only for the local development and improvement of the living standard but also as a battle between the honourable and hard working candidates who are ready to do their best for the citizens and those whose primary goals are to satisfy their personal interests and needs.
Ljubljana, 23 October 2009