The International 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 the light of the early parliamentary election scheduled for 11 June 2017. The most interesting sections from the analysis entitled “Kosovo: Expected tectonic changes on the political scene” are published below.
On 11 June 2017 the third (early) parliamentary election is taking place in Kosovo since the country proclaimed its independence for 17 February 2008 .
Kosovo Government lost the vote of no confidence on 10 May 2017, which was no surprise after constant conflicts between the two leading coalition partners: the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) led by Isa Mustafa and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) led by Kadri Veseli. The Serbian List (SL) and other minority communities in Kosovo were the third coalition partner.
The Kosovo Assembly (parliament) has 120 members, of which 20 seats are reserved for representatives of minority communities as follows: 10 seats for the Serbian community, 3 for the Bosniak community, 2 for the Turkish community, 4 for the Roma (RAE – Romani, Ashkali and Egyptians) and 1 for the Gorans.
The Serbs as the largest minority community will compete with six electoral lists. If they competed with only one electoral list they could win a larger number of parliament seats. Those who support such option have a strong argument – better chances to win more seats. However, democracy is based on political pluralism, i.e. the possibility to present different political programmes. Since the Brussels Agreement was signed between Belgrade and Pristina in April 2013, the Serbian community has unified under the auspices of Belgrade, which has aggravated the position of Serbian community in Kosovo as it has had to follow the instructions from Belgrade.
There are in total 1,8 million voters who will have the right to vote at the forthcoming election in 38 municipalities.
Kosovo is one of the countries in the region (such as Macedonia) having problems with the unconsolidated and untrustworthy electoral roll – it is improbable to have almost 1.8 million voters in a country with a population of only about two million.
The right to vote is also given to Kosovo citizens registered as voters who are residing outside Kosovo, predominantly the Serbs who live mostly in Serbia. However, this time it will be possible for Kosovo citizens who live abroad to vote by post – they will simply print the ballot paper from the Kosovo Central Election Commission (CIK), fill it in and send it together with their personal identification document to the CIK address. This opens the possibilities for various misuses and manipulations, especially since the OSCE Mission will not send its observers to monitor the election due to a very short period of time till the election date.
In 2014 the Kosovo Assembly adopted the Law on ratification of the International Agreement between the Republic of Kosovo and the European Union on the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo which envisages the formation of the special war crimes court and prosecution office which should try alleged human organ trafficking from the Council of Europe investigations based on the report drawn up by Dick Marty. It was expected to examine some serious allegations from the 2010 Council of Europe report and to prosecute the war crime suspects in Kosovo, especially some of the former commanders of Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK). However, no such court has been established yet.
Analysts believe that the special war crimes court is to be established in order to prosecute war leaders from UÇK, especially those currently performing the highest functions in Kosovo institutions. Despite the facts that Kosovo has its own national legislation, that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) operates in the Hague and that the EULEX Mission has been set up as the largest mission ever to be established in the field of rule of law – it is obvious that all these institutions have failed to fulfil their basic tasks. Unless the war leaders are eliminated from political and public life in Kosovo, it will be very hard to achieve any progress in Kosovo. Finding out the truth is the only way to justice and reconciliation. The leading world states are planning that after signing the Brussels Agreement most of the current leaders would be eliminated from the Kosovo political scene, including the incumbent President Hashim Thaçi. After the non-election of Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE) in Macedonia it is expected that Thaçi will also leave the politics.
The country's weak judicial system is not capable of carrying out quality and fair trials of suspects of war crimes, organised crime and corruption. The main nests of crime in Kosovo are the Privatisation Agency, public companies, customs control, public tenders etc. The roots of crime in Kosovo stem from its government-in-exile.
The election campaign will only last 10 days. The incumbent Kosovo government (LDK – PDK) has abused the election campaign, as they had started it already before the campaign was officially launched. Kosovo laws do not provide for any sanctions in case of election campaign abuse. Spending public funds on the election campaign and the (ab)use of the media that are controlled by the government or political parties represent the country's usual practice. The fairness and loyalty of the election campaign depends mostly on the media.
At previous (2014) parliamentary election Hashim Thaçi announced that 200,000 new workplaces would be created through the EUR 1.5 billion worth Employment Fund. President of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa promised that he would invest EUR 1.2 billion in agriculture in order to create 120,000 new jobs. The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) led by Ramush Haradinaj also promised to create 200,000 jobs. But those were all empty campaign promises. Instead, the Kosovo citizens embarked on a new wave of massive emigration into the West European countries.
Economic experts have estimated that it would be impossible to create 200,000 jobs in an economy such as this. In order to create such a large number of jobs the country's economy would have to show at least a 20% annual growth.
When Kosovo proclaimed independence in 2008 the unemployment rate was 43% while during the past few years it has decreased mostly due to emigration of the working age population and not thanks to the government’s economic policy for opening new jobs which has proven to be wrong. New jobs cannot be created simply through subsidies and public funds.
During its four-year term of office the incumbent government has not managed to resolve any of the country’s main problems, but it has opened three key issues for Kosovo’s development: the demarcation agreement on the border between Kosovo and Montenegro, the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) and the formation of the Kosovo Army.
So far Kosovo authorities haven't been successful in fighting corruption and organised crime.
According to the Freedom House 2016 assessment of media freedom Kosovo ranks 96th out of 197 countries and territories that were assessed. In the region it is preceded by Slovenia which ranks 33th as well as by Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia ranked 74th, 76th and 84rd respectively, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia were ranked 103rd and 139th respectively (source: Freedom House 2017).
Strict monitoring should be carried out over Kosovo media during the election campaign and measures should be taken in order to sanction the media that partially report on the campaign and favour certain political entities. The fact is that practically every media house in Kosovo is directly or indirectly controlled by some political party.
Organised crime and corruption represent a grave threat to Kosovo's society. Analysts have estimated that the level of crime and corruption in this country has started to jeopardise the very existence of Kosovo. According to the 2016 corruption index from Transparency International, Kosovo was ranked 95th together with Argentina, Benin, Salvador and Sri Lanka (source: Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2016).
Analysts have noted that Kosovo represents a unique paradise for criminals due to the weak functioning of state institutions and strong ties between political and criminal structures. This is evident from the case of one of the leading drug dealers in Europe Naser Kelmendi who is involved in a court trial in Pristina on charges of murderand who has been blacklisted by the United States. The Kelmendi case has revealed numerous criminal connections in the region, including Pristina, Belgrade, Banja Luka, and notably Podgorica and Sarajevo. It could also contribute to revealing the connections and cooperation between certain politicians in Sarajevo and could significantly affect the 2018 parliamentary and presidential election in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The main race at the forthcoming early parliamentary election in Kosovo will take place between the coalitions of three main political rivals: Kadri Veseli's (or actually Hashim Thaçi's) Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), Isa Mustafa's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Albin Kurti's “Vetëvendosje”Self-Determination Movement(LVV).
LDK has formed coalition with Behgjet Pacolli's New Kosovo Alliance (ARK) and Ilir Deda's“The Alternative”, while PDK has formed coalition with the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) led by Ramush Haradinaj and with the party “Nisma” led by Fatmir Limaj. They are all principled coalitions that have already been tested on the political scene, with all parties having been in coalition with all other parties except for the Self-Determination Movement which has not been in the government yet. At previous local election LVV won in the Kosovo capital of Pristina where has its mayor Shpend Ahmeti who has successfully run this local community despite numerous obstacles imposed by the central government of Kosovo, i.e. LDK and PDK.
Public opinion polls carried out in Kosovo have shown that the main race at the forthcoming election will take place between the Self-Determination Movement and the coalition gathered around LDK and PDK. Very small differences between the three parties shown by pre-election surveys anticipate narrow election results.
Bearing in mind the still very high number of undecided voters (about 30%) it is expected that they and the voters from the Diaspora will have the key say in choosing the new Kosovo government for the next four-year term.
The undecided voters believe that in order to win the election Thaçi's PDK will have to rely on clientelism and its network of party activists it had employed in state administration, the police, security forces, the post, the airport and other public companies and institutions.
Most undecided voters share the opinion that the incumbent government (LDK-PDK) should be punished, which may lead to tectonic changes on the Kosovo political scene and the empowerment of LVV and its informal leader Albin Kurti, bearing in mind that LVV leaders are perceived as incorrupt and principled politicians. Such a situation could lead to the complete elimination of President Thaçi. For that reason Thaçi has joined the coalition with his greatest political opponents Ramush Haradinaj (AAK) and Fatmir Limaj (Nisma) in order to save his skin, which shows that his only goal is to remain in power. It is expected that the voters will punish such unprincipled coalition which is burdened with numerous encumbrances from the past and which has already blown its chances to show what it can do for Kosovo. Despite Thaçi's numerous empty promises Kosovo has been constantly regressing under his leadership.
Analysts believe that Kosovo needs a new political leadership which is not burdened with past encumbrances and that changes in the government would be a healthy motivation for the young Kosovo democracy. PDK, LDK and AAK are – besides having proven to be disastrous leaders – all burdened with crime, corruption, nepotism, war crimes, liquidations, and certain individuals even with unresolved murders that may have been politically motivated. The Self-Determination Movementcould bring some positive changes if it takes over the government, bearing in mind that Kosovo is facing a major turning point and tectonic changes on the political scene. The process of Kosovo's international recognition has been stopped, which may put its very existence under threat.
Eventual success of the Self-Determination Movementshould therefore come as no surprise. Analysts have estimated that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is expected to be concluded by Aleksandar Vučić and Albin Kurti (LVV). Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its leader Vučić have already corrected their politics to some extent, but they still have to make further changes. The same will happen with LVV which is becoming the key actor on Kosovo's political scene.
Thus the issues of the demarcation of the border between Kosovo and Montenegro, the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) and the formation of the Kosovo Army will probably have to be dealt with in one package. The official representatives of minority communities will play significant role in this.
EU has punished the citizens of Kosovo which is the only country in the region that still has the visa regime in place with the EU states as well as with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is inconceivable that the EU's condition for abolishing the visa regime for Kosovo is the ratification of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro.
As far as Kosovo’s status is concerned there is a conflict between two constitutional concepts: according to one Kosovo (and Metohija) is a constituent part of Serbia, while according to the other Kosovo is an independent state. This conflict between the two constitutional concepts will have to be resolved.
Corruption, clientelism and privatisation still remain the main problems of Kosovo's society. Corruption is closely connected with political activism, clientelism and nepotism related to the leading PDK and LDK which have abused their position in order to achieve dominant position through employing its staff in the state administration and other public institutions.
Affiliation to the leading party is one of the main criteria for employment and often also for enrolling at universities or even passing exams. There are many cases of misusing the university places reserved for minority communities when individuals from the majority nation (Albanians) state they belong to one of the national minorities (e.g. Bosniak) in order to take up the reserved enrolment places. The election legislation and the principle of positive discrimination have also been misused by some minority lists (such as SDA) which have presented themselves as multinational parties in order enable the election of the representatives of the leading parties from the majority nation instead of those from the real minorities. According to the Kosovo Election Law minority lists are reserved for the election of the representatives of minority communities to the Kosovo Assembly, therefore such misuses and manipulations should be prevented.
As regards the economic issues most undecided voters believe privatisation has failed completely, being used as a tool for achieving personal profit. In some cases privatisation was unnecessary in the first place, while in other cases it was carried out in a non-transparent, suspicious and incorrect manner.
The respondents of opinion polls published in Kosovo believe that the rule of law is not functioning and that there is no justice, no penalties and no efficient courts. This means that the state is weakening and that the citizens no longer trust its institutions.
On June 11, 2017 the citizens will decide what kind of government Kosovo will have, but the general impression is that Kosovo needs radical changes and a new beginning.
The IFIMES International Institute is of the opinion that the key tasks for the new government will be to achieve the no-visa regime for all EU member states and to seriously deal with the accumulated problems of the young generation, bearing in mind that Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe. It will have to ensure the functioning of the rule of law and state institutions in fighting crime and corruption. The efficient judicial system will represent the foundation for the future development of Kosovo. An important task will be the integration of Kosovo through regional cooperation and friendly relations with the neighbouring countries. Promoting the respect of human rights and positive discrimination of minorities should be the constant priority of the new government. High unemployment rate is another key issue to be dealt with in order to prevent another wave of emigration to the EU, especially among the young generation. A strict and systematic control mechanism of the privatisation process should also be ensured as a key priority.Once functioning the Special war crimes court and prosecution office will launch the process of elimination of war leaders from the political and public life in Kosovo, which will relieve the tense atmosphere. It should be noted that despite its ambitious targets the incumbent government (LDK-PDK) has achieved very modest results in terms of obtaining new recognitions of Kosovo's independence. Kosovo is facing some tectonic changes on the political scene which may ensure a better future to all its citizens.
Ljubljana, 31 May 2017