Kosovo – 2013 local election: The Battle for Prishtina

Such early election will be of great importance not only for local development and improvement of the life of Kosovo citizens, but will at the same time trigger a fight to take over local communities by the competent young people who are willing to make their best efforts for the benefit of their fellow citizens, or by certain individuals whose primary goals have been, for many years, to satisfy their own personal interests and needs.

TheInternational Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in Kosovo in view of the local election scheduled for 3 November 2013. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “KOSOVO – 2013 LOCAL ELECTION: THE BATTLE FOR PRISHTINA” are given below.

Kosovo – 2013 local election:

The Battle for Prishtina

On 2 November 2013 the second local election is to take place in Kosovo since the country proclaimed its independence on 17 February 2008. The voters will elect mayors and deputies to local assemblies.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Kosovo has confirmed 103 political entities to run at the local election: 33 political parties, 52 citizen initiatives, 16 independent candidates and two coalitions, with altogether 7,932 candidates. The electorate comprises 1,779,357 voters who will vote in 38 municipalities (previous election: 33 municipalities). There are 27 Serbian lists (24 citizen initiatives and three political parties) in the total number of political entities participating at the local election. The Serbian community in North Kosovo (the municipalities of Kosovska Mitrovica, Zvečan, Zubin Potok and Leposavić) will participate for the first time at local election organised by the authorities in Prishtina. The election campaign has officially started on 3 October 2013.

The Brussels Agreement signed by the Belgrade and Prishtina authorities has enabled the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo. The Community is established with the statute and guaranteed by the laws of Kosovo that can only be amended with a two-third majority. Accordingly, the Community can only be dissolved by a decision of member municipalities. Although established outside the Kosovo legal system, it is an integral part of Kosovo and does not belong to the Republic of Serbia (points 1 and 2). The Community of Serb Municipalities will represent an official institution that will be formally connected with the Belgrade authorities.

DISSATISFACTION WITH THAÇI'S GOVERNMENT

The citizens of both majority Albanian and minority ethnic communities are mostly dissatisfied with the work of the incumbent Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi and his government which has failed to take appropriate action to fight organised crime and corruption and to improve the living standard of its citizens, reduce unemployment and attract investments. 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 government would have to change its political approach in order to develop effective employment programmes, modify the economic investment policy and make further investments in the implementation of the justice system which currently accounts for only 0.47 % GDP. The Kosovo judiciary is currently tested with the case of one of the biggest drug dealers in Europe Naser Kelmendi who was arrested in Prishtina this year on charges of murder and who was added to the black list by the US President Barack Obama. The Kelmendi case will reveal numerous criminal connections in the region, including Prishtina, Belgrade, Banja Luka, and notably in Podgorica and Sarajevo. The opening of the case could also shed some light on criminal connections with the controversial Security Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina Fahrudin Radončić in Sarajevo.

The government also failed in the field of gaining recognition of the Kosovo state – in view of the very slow pace of the recognition process as compared to the general euphoria and expectations when the country proclaimed its independence. The lack of activities on the part of the government in order to continue the process of gaining international recognition has led to political apathy among the electorate. Relations with the neighbouring countries, especially with Macedonia, have regressed.

The incumbent government and its Prime Minister often interfered in the work of Kosovo's institutions whose autonomy is guaranteed in the Constitution. This is how an affair with the Kosovo Central Bank was produced leading to unjustified apprehension of one of the most successful bank governors Hashim Rexhepi in July 2010 who was later freed of all charges. Thaçi's government has been characterised with nepotism, non-transparency and corruption. According to the 2012 corruption index from Transparency International Kosovo is ranked 105th of all together 174 countries which were included in the survey on corruption, thus occupying the same position as Algeria, Armenia, Bolivia, Gambia, Mali, Mexico and the Philippines (Source: Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2012).

PDK GAVE UP ON PRISHTINA

Expectedly the main political fight at the forthcoming local election will be fought for Prishtina, Kosovo's capital and home to a quarter of Kosovo citizens. Until now Prishtina has been regarded the main bastion of Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the party led by the incumbent Mayor and LDK President Isa Mustafa. Other main election races are expected in the municipalities of Prizren/Prizren, Gjilan/Gnjilane and Gjakova/Đakovica.

Thaçi's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) has had significant difficulties with nominating the candidate for Prishtina's mayor who would be able to compete with the incumbent Mayor from LDK Isa Mustafa.

PDK is very much interested in winning the mayor position in Prishtina, especially after it suffered three successive defeats at previous local elections. Elections in Prishtina ended twice with a crushing defeat for former Minister of Transport and Communication and PDK Vice-President Fatmir Limaj who is publicly better known as the freed Hague war crimes suspect. In both cases he lost elections to LDK. The third time election was lost by Astrid Salihu, again to LDK.

For quite some time PDK has been marked by internal clashes and tensions, and certain candidates in some municipal assemblies represent a threat to the party, thus further weakening its position. Another fact that will contribute to the defeat of PDK will be bad election results in some larger towns which it currently runs and where the voters will punish PDK for not having fulfilled its pre-election promises and for having failed to meet their expectations

The main election race between political parties will be run for Prishtina, Kosovo's capital, where the strongest candidates are the incumbent mayor and LDK President Isa Mustafa and the candidate of the Vetëvendosje! (Self-determination) movement (VV) and its Vice-President Shpend Ahmeti.

The leading PDK party led by Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi has proposed as its candidate for Prishtina's mayor Agim Çeku, incumbent Minister of Security Forces and former Prime Minister of Kosovo (March 2006-January 2008) who was also Chief of the Kosovo Liberation Army. His candidacy has been quite a surprise for the public as well as for the followers of PDK who understood that PDK and its leader Hashim Thaçi gave up the elections in Prishtina.

In April 2008 Agim Çeku joined the Social Democratic Party of Kosovo (PSDK) and became its President. Following the debacle at 2009 local election he joined the coalition with New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) led by Behgjet Pacolli. After the 2010 election AKR formed government together with PDK, and Agim Çeku became Minister of Security Forces. After less than a year he left the AKR coalition and his PSDK party and joined PDK. The voter's reaction to general Çeku's political adventures will be shown at the election. It is not clear why PDK hasn't put forward its “winning horse” for Prishtina – perhaps there is some other factor in the game? The situation was the same in 2009 when the philosopher Astrit Salihu was put forward as their candidate.

The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) led by Ramush Haradinaj has once more shown lack of inventiveness and disinterest in Prishtina by running as its candidate Besnik Tahiri who was also its candidate for Prishtina's mayor in 2009 election.

ISA MUSTAFA TO BE ELECTED FOR THE THIRD TERM OF OFFICE?

The main race for Prishtina's first man will be between the incumbent mayor Isa Mustafa – a technocrat and reputable university professor who is running for the third term of office – and Shpend Ahmeti – a relatively young (35 year old) graduate from the esteemed Harvard University and incumbent Vice President of the VV movement whose President Albin Kurti is much better known to the public.

While in 2009 Isa Mustafa won his second term of office already in the first round with more than 51% of votes, it will be impossible for him to repeat that result at the forthcoming election. This has been proven by the recent public opinion poll. Before the election campaign started, the poll has shown a close run between LDK and VV in Prishtina, where LDK and VV enjoyed 21% and 19% support respectively. Ten days after the launch of the election campaign the polls have shown an amazing turnabout in favour of the VV movement. Thus the latest poll has revealed that VV enjoys a 24.2% support while LDK has been left with only 15.9%. If this trend continues throughout the campaign, the election on 3 November 2013 will be probably marked by the victory of VV candidate Shpend Ahmeti, although insufficient to be elected in the first round. In the second round he will face Isa Mustafa, though with considerable psychological advantage. However, in the second run Isa Mustafa is expected to receive also the support of PDK as the acceptable opposition, while the VV movement is the harshest critic of Hashim Thaçi's politics. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough for Isa Mustafa to win his third term of office.

A part of Prishtina's citizens believe that despite his numerous results Isa Mustafa still hasn't done enough to resolve several burning problems. Thus certain parts of the city still suffer from water and electricity shortage, while the capital is still drowning in traffic chaos.

The uncertainty for Isa Mustafa is further proven by the fact that after a longer period of absence the former President of Kosovo Fatmir Sejdiu has started to appear at LDK election rallies. Fatmir Sejdiu was succeeded as party leader by Isa Mustafa in 2010. Sejdiu's resignation from LDK at that time was very unpleasant for him after he was “backstabbed” by Isa Mustafa. Consequently their communication was completely cut off and their relations were frozen. Has Isa Mustafa realised that he had made a political mistake when he eliminated Sejdiju from LDKs' political life, or is he only trying to use Sejdiju's authority to his benefit?

AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION

According to campaign slogans and thematic offers of political parties it can be concluded that the period of patriotic feelings has ended and that a new era of sobering up has started, based on the political fight to resolve the real economic and social problems that the Kosovo citizens are faced with. The credit for this shift in political vocabulary goes to Albin Kurti and his VV movement that had overcome the danger zone “between Scylla and Charybdis” inflicted by numerous domestic and foreign elements and managed to raise public awareness of the difficult economic situation in the country and of a vast number of unemployed young Kosovars.

Regardless of the percentage of votes VV wins, their future is certain and marked by the colours of their movement and their “Young Turk” philosophy of the reform of both the political scene and the Kosovo society.

Although regular parliamentary election is scheduled for autumn 2014, the IFIMES International Institute has assessed that the defeat of PDK and LDK in Prishtina will represent a severe blow for both political parties, opening the possibility for early parliamentary election that might be held in spring 2014 and lead to a change in the political picture of Kosovo.

The IFIMES International Institute anticipates that such early election will be of great importance not only for local development and improvement of the life of Kosovo citizens, but will at the same time trigger a fight to take over local communities by the competent young people who are willing to make their best efforts for the benefit of their fellow citizens, or by certain individuals whose primary goals have been, for many years, to satisfy their own personal interests and needs.

Analysts anticipate that the municipalities in North Kosovo will probably gain some kind of autonomy, although it is yet to be seen how they will be composed.

By signing the Brussels Agreement Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić has realised most of his demands, while Hashim Thaçi has become a marginal political leader outwitted by Dačić. Supported by only minority government, Thaçi has finally ended his fading political career with the Brussels Agreement. The success marked by VV at the local election will open the door to their participation in government also at the national level where they had not been active yet. Previous events and the forthcoming local election will symbolically point to the affirmation of Ivica Dačić on the Serbian side, notably in the international political scene, while the Albanian inner political scene will be dominated by the VV movement.

KOSOVO AND THE EU

The launch of negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, the discussions on visa liberalisation and the progress marked in the dialogue with Serbia are the positive findings of this year's EU Progress Report on Kosovo. Despite certain political progress which is mostly due to the Brussels Agreement between Prishtina and Belgrade, Kosovo is still facing numerous problems in the fields of justice, economic development, public administration and corruption. The government should not be satisfied with the SAA and the compliments it received regarding its dialogue with Serbia – these should serve as an encouragement for future work rather than the reflection of the real situation.

The government of Kosovo should make further efforts to abolish the visa regime for its citizens, resolve enormous unemployment, attract foreign investments, ensure the respect of human rights, regulate relations with the neighbouring countries and fight against regional and international crime as symbolised by the Naser Kelmendi case.

The EU has expressed concerns regarding the political language used by certain officials. Thus the European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia Jelko Kacin (ALDE/LDS) in his speech to MEPs during the recent EP plenary session in Strasbourg noted the lack of European behaviour and responsibility among the leaders and stated that:

“Serbia and Kosovo are democratic societies with a multi-party political system, so voters have the right to stand for elections and elect candidates among several lists, in 32 different local lists in total. As of now, the Serbian authorities have been calling on the Serbs in Kosovo to vote only for the "Serbian civil initiative", which is not in the spirit of the Brussels agreement and amounts to a continuation of Belgrade policy of division of the Serbian community in Kosovo. Political pluralism is a cornerstone of democracy; one-party systems are a thing of the past. The possibility of choosing between the local lists is the essence of the local elections.

Ljubljana, October 28, 2013



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