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 which is to hold the third regular local election on 22 October 2017. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled “Kosovo – 2017 local election: A test for Haradinaj's government?“ are given below.
On 22 October 2017 the third 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 91 political entities to run at the local election, of which 35 political parties, one coalition, 30 civic initiatives and 25 independent candidates. The electorate comprises 1,890,952 voters who will vote in 38 municipalities. In 29 municipalities the electoral roll contains more registered voters than there are inhabitants, which opens the possibilities for manipulation. For example, the Gjilan/Gnjilane municipality has 20,000 more voters than it has inhabitants, while in the Gračanica municipality the number of voters exceeds by half the number of persons actually living there.
Kosovo Serbs will be able to vote their candidates from 18 lists in 21 municipalities: in 10 municipalities where they are the majority population and in 11 municipalities where they are not the majority population. The Serbian community in North Kosovo (the municipalities of Kosovska Mitrovica, Zvečan, Zubin Potok and Leposavić) will participate for the second time at local election organised by the authorities of the Republic of Kosovo. The election campaign officially started on 21 September 2017.
The Brussels Agreement signed by the Belgrade and Prishtina authorities has enabled the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) in Kosovo. The Community was established with the statute and guaranteed by the laws of the Republic of Kosovo that can only be amended with a two-third majority. Accordingly, it 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 would thus represent an official institution that would be formally connected with the Belgrade authorities. This creates a model of special and parallel connections between ZSO and Serbia, similar to the special connections between Serbia and the Republika Srpska entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The incumbent Kosovo government led by Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (AAK)) was formed under the direct influence from Belgrade and Moscow. It is composed of the PAN coalition gathered around Kadri Veseli's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma) led by Fatmir Limaj and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AKR) led by the controversial businessman Behgjet Pacolli with the support of the Serbian list and the deputies of other minority communities in Kosovo. After the parliamentary election Kosovo's President Hashim Thaçi (PDK) transferred the dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina from the prime-ministerial to the presidential level. Following Thaçi's example, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) did the same after he took over the presidential function, although this covers the issues that are the subject of the Brussels dialogue and under the responsibility of the governments of the two countries concerned. Obviously they represent synchronous actions, just like the synchronous formation of the new Kosovo government, in which the key role was played by Vučić, Pacolli, Thaci and Moscow authorities. It is generally known in Kosovo that the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) president and Minister of Foreign Affairs Behgjet Pacolli is a “Russian man” – that is why he performed the office of the President of the Republic of Kosovo for only 40 days. Afterwards Pacolli gained attention again in connection with selling and buying MPs for the formation of the new coalition. Ramush Haradinaj (AAK) was the reason Vučić froze diplomatic relations with France, claiming that he was the biggest war criminal, only eventually to add Haradinaj's government to the Serbian list. Moreover, Haradinaj stated he would only count on Albanian votes and not on the votes of those who block all the processes, thus implying the Serb voters.
The main purpose of this obvious and well-coordinated game is to eliminate Albin Kurti and his Self-Determination movement (VV-Vetëvendosje!) that opposes the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities (ZSO) according to Vučić-Thaçi plans that represents a real danger of dividing Kosovo into entities and forming the Serbian entity in Kosovo that would be directly connected with Serbia just as the Republika Srpska entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina is directly connected with Serbia. The incumbent Kosovo government is ideal for the opponents of Kosovo's independence. Kosovo Prime Minister Haradinaj is heavily burdened with past war crimes and President Thaçi is connected with crime and other forms of corruption. According to international diplomatic sources Thaçi is the main reason that the Special Prosecutor’s Office and the Special War Crimes Court were established in Kosovo.
Kosovo citizens are mostly dissatisfied and apathetic about the fact that the Prime Minister is a man with so many burdens from the past and whose AAK party holds only 10 out of 120 seats in the Kosovo Assembly, while his Deputy and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pacolli and his Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AKR) only has two seats in the Assembly. Three ministers and thirteen MP's from the incumbent government are running for the local election, which is very frivolous behaviour for a serious government.
Analysts have estimated that dissatisfaction with the government is present not only among the majority Albanian population but also among the members of minority ethnic communities, bearing in mind that the government has not done enough to fight organised crime and corruption, improve the standard of living, increase employment rates, attract foreign investments, improve the respect of fundamental human rights, and free the media which are still controlled by the government and political parties. The government has not changed 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 and the rule of law, which currently accounts for only 1 % of GDP. It is paradoxical that the government was elected without prior discussion on its programme in the Assembly – this discussion was performed after its election.
The incumbent government and its Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi often interfered in the work of Kosovo's institutions whose autonomy is guaranteed by the Constitution. It is known that through his brother Thaçi exerts influence on the Kosovo Insurance Bureau (BKS) and controls the complete financial system through the Central Bank of Kosovo (BQK). Ramush Haradinaj also carries out similar activities through his brother. The MPs in the Kosovo Assembly were selected from a few leading families and clans that are present in the Kosovo political scene. Although he should be the president of all Kosovo citizens, Thaçi participates in the election campaign as PDK's man, just as he did at the last parliamentary election.
The government of Thaçi and his clan is characterised by nepotism, intimidation, racketing, crime, non-transparency and corruption. According to the 2016 corruption index from Transparency International Kosovo is ranked 95th of all together 174 countries which were included in the survey on corruption, thus occupying the same position as Argentina, Benin, Salvador, Sri Lanka and Maldives (Source: Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2016). The election of Haradinaj's government has further aggravated the crisis and dissatisfaction among Kosovo citizens.
Prishtina is Kosovo's capital and home to a quarter of Kosovo citizens. Besides in Prishtina, other main election races at the upcoming local election are expected in the municipalities of Prizren/Prizren, Gjilan/Gnjilane, Mitrovicë/Mitrovica 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 successful and popular Mayor Ahmeti from VV.
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, because the incumbent PDK leader Kadri Veseli opposes Thaçi who still wants to preserve his influence over PDK and keep control over selection of its staff. 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 where the strongest candidate is the incumbent Mayor and the candidate of the Self-Determination movement (VV) Shpend Ahmeti.
Public opinion polls that were carried out before the election campaign started as well as the recent polls have shown that the VV movement ranks highest. If this trend continues throughout the campaign, the election on 22 October 2017 will be probably marked by the victory of VV candidate Shpend Ahmeti, although insufficient to be elected Mayor in the first round. Nevertheless, he will certainly have considerable psychological advantage in the runoff. In the second round Ahmeti is expected to receive also the support of LDK and other minor parties.
Prishtina's citizens believe that Mayor Ahmeti has introduced a new approach to the management of local communities and achieved significant results, and that he could have done even more to resolve numerous burning problems were it not for Kosovo central government controlled by Thaçi that caused constant obstructions. The VV movement could transpose the successful management model from Prishtina to other municipalities in Kosovo.
International representatives and analysts have expressed concerns regarding the political rhetoric used by some officials against their political competitors at the local election. Evidently there is a lack of European behaviour and responsibility among the Belgrade officials who insist that Serbs should have only one political entity at the upcoming local election, i.e. the "Serbian list", and use inappropriate rhetoric, intimidation and even physical threats against the other (18) Serbian political entities that participate at the local election, calling them traitors and enemies of Serbs and of the regime in Belgrade.
They ignore the fact that Serbia and Kosovo are democratic societies with a multi-party political system, so citizens have the right to stand for elections and elect candidates among several lists, in 91 different local lists in total. As of now, the Serbian authorities in Belgrade have been calling on the Serbs in Kosovo to vote only for the "Serbian list", which is not in the spirit of the Brussels agreement and amounts to a continuation of Belgrade policy of dividing the Serbian community in Kosovo. Political pluralism is a cornerstone of democracy, while one-party systems are a thing of the past. The possibility of choosing between several local lists is the essence of local elections.
Kosovo still needs to deal with the open issues of starting the negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, the dialogue on liberalising the visa regime and the talks with Serbia.
Despite certain political progress which is mostly due to the Brussels Agreement between Prishtina and Belgrade, Kosovo is still facing numerous problems and challenges in the fields of justice, economic development, unemployment and emigration, public administration, crime and corruption.Kosovo 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.
Kosovo government 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, stop emigration and fight regional and international crime and corruption. The incumbent government is not able to ensure the abolishment of the visa regime for Kosovo citizens. Besides the ratification of the demarcation agreement on the border between Kosovo and Montenegro, a much bigger problem for the government is to provide convincing evidence to the EU on its efforts to fight crime and corruption, which is one of the conditions for visa abolishment.
The EU has set two unusual conditions for Kosovo to abolish the visa regime: the ratification of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro and the provision of convincing evidence on fighting crime and corruption, which is still lacking. There is no alternative solution for the liberalisation of the visa regime. Why were Serbia and other states not faced with the same conditions for visa abolishment? The EU has shown inconsistency in resolving this issue. It should be reminded how Serbia answered the questionnaire that it sent to the European Commission on the basic data such as its surface, population and borders, as it is one of the few states that has not exactly defined those features. The EU has experienced a compete debacle in Kosovo with EULEX as its largest mission for establishing the rule of law. The fact is that crime and corruption have further increased during its presence in Kosovo. The question is why the EU still supports the authoritarian regime in Kosovo and the region and spends the European taxpayers’ money?
The IFIMES International Institute believes that the upcoming local election will be the most important local election since the Republic of Kosovo proclaimed independence. The main task will be to stop the negative trends in almost every segment of the Kosovo society. So far none of the Kosovo governments have shown the capacity to resolve the challenges that the country is facing. The incumbent government is characterised by a strong Serbian-Russian influence, crime, corruption, lack of competence and nepotism. Under those circumstances it should not be Kosovo citizens who should be punished by the visa regime but rather the political structures. Kosovo will have to go through a strong process of decriminalisation of politics. In fighting crime and mafia it will need the assistance of American agencies.
The situation in the political party scene is controlled by PDK and by SHiK – the (para)intelligence service whose former director Kadri Veseli currently presides the Kosovo parliament and PDK.
Just as other nations in the region, Kosovo Albanians cannot ensure a better future for themselves unless they deal with the past. PDK failed the test and destroyed all the hope of Kosovo citizens for a better future. That is why the upcoming local election will be the most important election since the country proclaimed independence, as it will lead to radical changes at the local level and strengthen the Self-Determination movement (VV) which is already the strongest political entity in Kosovo with the highest number of seats in the Kosovo Assembly.The citizens expect changes. Every second citizen is younger than 30 – if the present political structures remain in power, the future of the young generation will remain unsecure and their fate sealed.
The official Belgrade in cooperation with Moscow directs the incumbent Kosovo government. The upcoming local election in Kosovo will show that the era of false patriots and patriotic feelings has ended and that a new period of sobriety and political activity has come, with an emphasis on resolving the real and burning economic and social problems of Kosovo citizens. Most of the credit for this shift in the political action goes to Albin Kurti and his social democratic movement named Self-Determination (VV), who defeated numerous barriers and obstructions caused by domestic and foreign actors and managed to raise citizen awareness of the grave economic situation and enormous unemployment rate among the young generation in Kosovo. Thaçi's regime even called upon Albin Kurti and some of his co-workers to respond to court summons and participate in judicial proceedings, which only reveals the nature of his regime.
After this local election the future of the VV movement will be even more certain and coloured with the Self-Determination movement colours and their “Young Turk“ philosophy of reforming the political scene and the Kosovo society as a whole.
The IFIMES International Institute has assessed that the defeat of PDK, AAK and AKR will represent a severe blow for all three political parties, opening the possibility for early parliamentary election that might be held in spring 2018 and lead to an eventual change in the political picture of Kosovo. Although this is a local election, it will decide on the future of Kosovo.
The IFIMES International Institute anticipates that this local 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 between those who want to take over local communities: will it be the honest, competent and hardworking people who are willing to make their best efforts for the benefit of their fellow citizens, or certain individuals whose primary goals have been, for many years, to satisfy their own personal interests and needs through racketing, crime and corruption. That is why the election will represent a test for Haradinaj's government, and they will most probably fail it.
By signing the Brussels Agreement Serbia realised most of its demands, while Hashim Thaçi is aware that the Brussels Agreement keeps him and Vučić politically alive. That is why the dialogue has lasted so long and has given such modest results. The new success marked by VV at the local election will be an introduction for their stronger position also at the national level. The present political situation and the upcoming local election in Kosovo will symbolically strengthen the position of Aleksandar Vučić in Serbia, while in the Kosovo political scene Albin Kurti and his Self-Determination movement will probably end the dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade with the interference from Brussels.
President Thaçi has intentionally started a campaign against Great Britain, USA and the EU and is also expected to launch a campaign against Turkey, allegedly because they did not fulfil the promises they made regarding Kosovo, while his real intention is to justify his inactivity, present himself as a victim and protect himself from judicial prosecution.
Because of his attack at the leading states that enabled the establishment and recognition of the young Kosovo state, the opposition has justifiably marked Thaçi as the “national danger“. Analysts have estimated that under Thaçi Kosovo is actually turning into a “Serbian southern province“.
Through active participation in the election campaign Thaçi tried to win some points by asking the President of the Republic of Albania Ilir Meta to enable Kosovo citizens get Albanian passports with the aim to resolve the issue of visa liberalisation. Thaçi is fully aware that by doing that Albania would jeopardise its visa-free regime with the EU states and that it cannot satisfy Thaçi's request without prior consent from the EU and the US. Analysts believe that the visit of Albanian President Ilir Meta to Kosovo during the election campaign was inappropriate since he was (mis)used for Thaçi's interests and to support PDK's election campaign. It is of key importance to stop Thaçi from confronting Kosovo's friendly countries and the international community, since this only brings benefits to Aleksandar Vučić and the authorities in Belgrade.
In order to normalise the situation in Kosovo it is of vital importance that the Special Prosecutor’s Office and the Special War Crimes Court start performing their function as an answer to the report by the Council of Europe special rapporteur Dick Marti. This will also serve as an additional impetus to start “de-Thaçisation“ of Kosovo based on the Macedonian model (“de-Gruevisation“) and to achieve internal consolidation of Kosovo. In Macedonia the Special Prosecutor's Office (SJO) already successfully performs its function. The fact that the Special Prosecutor’s Office and the Special War Crimes Court have also started to work in Kosovo makes it clear that Hashim Thaçi can await the same inevitable fate as Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE) whose regime was finally defeated at the local election in Macedonia that took place on 15 October 2017. The leading role of Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) in dismantling the former regime in Macedonia will in Kosovo be played by the Self-Determination movement (VV) – both political parties are of social democratic orientation.
Ljubljana, 19 October 2017