Kosovo: War leaders to leave the political scene?

Kosovo: War leaders to leave the political scene?

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in Kosovo in the light of the early parliamentary election scheduled for 8 June 2014.

The second (early) parliamentary election in Kosovo since the country proclaimed its independence on 17 February 2008 is scheduled for 8 June 2014, based on the old election act.There will be 1.235 candidates from 30 political entities, 18 political parties, 7 initiatives, 4 coalitions and 1 independent candidate. Among the confirmed political entities there are five Serbian, six Bosniak and two each from the Turkish, Roma and Gorani communities.

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.

If the Serbs as the largest minority run at the election with only one election list, they may win the largest number of 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 been trying to unify under the auspices of Belgrade.

There are in total 1.782.454 voters who will have the right to vote in 38 municipalities, which is 154.653 registered voters more than at 2010 parliamentary election.

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.

There are about 27,000 of those residing outside Kosovo who have been registered as voters, of which 4,000 are Albanians and the rest are voters from Serbia. On the electoral roll there are in total 140,000 Serbs with the right to vote.

WHY WAS A SPECIAL WAR CRIMES COURT ESTABLISHED?

On April 23, 2014, the Kosovo Assembly adopted the draft Law on ratification of the International Agreement between the Republic of Kosovo and the European Union on the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo. This document provided for the establishment of a special war crimes court which would try alleged human organ trafficking from the Council of Europe investigations based on the report drawn up by Dick Marty. It is expected to examine some serious allegations from the 2010 Council of Europe report.

Analysts believe that the special war crimes court is being established in order to prosecute war leaders, especially those currently performing the highest functions in Kosovo institutions. Unless they are eliminated from political circles it will be very hard to achieve any progress in Kosovo. Finding out the truth is the only way to justice and reconciliation.  In this context a strong pressure may be noticed from Germany which expects that after concluding the Brussels Agreement and holding the parliamentary election most of the current leaders would leave the political scene, including the incumbent Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi.

The country’s weak judicial system is not capable of carrying out quality and fair trials for war criminals. The Drenica Group case illustrates the disastrous state of the Kosovo judiciary.

ABUSE OF THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN

The election campaign was officially launched on May 28 and will last until June 6, 2014. The current Kosovo authorities have abused the election campaign which they started 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 usual practice.

Creating new jobs is one of the main promises of politicians competing at the election campaign. Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi announced that 200,000 new workplaces will be created through the EUR 1.5 billion worth Employment Fund. President of the Democratic League of Kosovo 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.

Analysts have noted 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 a 20% annual growth.

When Kosovo proclaimed independence in 2008 the unemployment rate was 43% while at present it stands at almost 35%, which shows that during the past four years unemployment has decreased by less than 10%.

During its four-year term the incumbent government has managed to create 40.000 new jobs. The political parties could not find the appropriate solution for the high unemployment rate, and it is not very likely that agriculture would bring new employment opportunities through subsidies and public funds.

The disquieting fact is that the 2013-2015 mid-term spending plan adopted by the Kosovo Government does not envisage any new jobs until end 2015.

KOSOVO – A PARADISE FOR ORGANISED CRIME AND CORRUPTION

So far Kosovo authorities haven’t been successful in fighting corruption and organised crime.

According to the Freedom House 2014 assessment of media freedom Kosovo ranks 98th out of 197 countries that were assessed. In the region it is preceded by Slovenia which ranks 39th as well as by Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia ranked 74th, 78th and 83rd respectively (Source: Freedom House 2014).

Analysts have noted that strict monitoring should be carried out over the media during the election campaign and that measures should be taken in order to sanction the media that partially report on the campaign and favour certain political entities.

Analysts have estimated that organised crime and corruption represent a grave threat to Kosovo’s society which has become a “paradise” for crime and corruption.  According to the 2013 corruption index from Transparency International Kosovo was ranked 111th together with Tanzania and Ethiopia (Source: Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2013).

Analysts have noted that Kosovo represents a paradise for criminals due to weak functioning of state institutions and strong ties between political and criminal structures. This is evident from the case of one of the biggest drug dealers in Europe Naser Kelmendi who was arrested in Pristina last year on charges of murder and who was added to the black list by the US President Barack Obama. The prosecution of the Kelmendi case will reveal numerous criminal connections in the region, including Pristina, Belgrade, Banja Luka, and notably Podgorica and Sarajevo. The Kelmendi case could also contribute to revealing his connections and cooperation with the recently dismissed controversial Security Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina Fahrudin Radoncic and many others.

THE LEADING TROIKA PDK – LDK – LVV

Public opinion polls carried out in Kosovo have shown that the main race at the forthcoming election will take place between 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). Very small differences between the three parties shown by pre-election surveys anticipate narrow election results.

Although most of the voters have already decided how they will cast their votes, there are still about 20% undecided voters who will have the key say in choosing the new 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, postal services, the airport and other public companies and institutions.

Most undecided voters share the opinion that the incumbent government should be punished, which will represent an obstacle for Prime Minister Thaçi who would like to win his third term of office.

Analysts are of the opinion that it would be good and healthy for Kosovo and its young democracy to change the key government leaders. Nevertheless, PDK also has its positive side, such as its decisiveness in adopting some major and difficult decisions or goals, although some of them may have brought damage to the state, its economy and citizens.

Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) is regarded by some undecided voters as a political party with certain tradition stemming from 1980s and as such obsolete and without any new politicians. Although LDK was the largest opposition party, the general impression is that it has not performed its role properly. Instead of cooperating with other opposition parties it rather flirted with the leading coalition and thus created the perception that it shares some common elements with PDK.  At 2013 local election LDK leader Isa Mustafa lost the race for Pristina’s mayor to the “Vetëvendosje” Movement (LVV) Shpend Ahmeti. The forthcoming election will show whether LDK will manage to heal its wounds or continue to sink.

The third major party in Kosovo is Albin Kurti’s “Vetëvendosje” Self-Determination Movement (LVV) which most undecided voters believe to have a promising future. They also believe that LVV should concentrate on its local structures, notably in small and peripheral municipalities. LVV is perceived as the only real opposition to the leading PDK and the Movement leaders are regarded as uncorrupted. LVV’s openness for experts and professionals from the academic circles, the civil society and the media has been assessed very positively. For the first time in the history of multiparty political system in Kosovo two independent trade unions have joined LVV following the example of European practice.

LVV won its first important victory at 2013 local election when its candidate Shpend Ahmeti became Pristina’s mayor. Recently the influential British daily the Guardian proclaimed Shpend Ahmeti to be Europe’s bravest mayor who is trying to clean up the urban chaos in Kosovo’s capital. It remains to be seen whether on June 8, 2014 the Kosovo citizens will  give a chance to LVV and its leader Albin Kurti to take over the government – surprises are possible.

CORRUPTION, PRIVATISATION AND INEFFICIENT STATE

The three key problems pressing on Kosovo citizens are corruption, clientelism and privatisation. Corruption is closely connected with political activism, clientelism and nepotism related to the leading PDK which is abusing its position in order to achieve dominant position through employing its staff in the state administration and other public institutions.

Most of respondents in targeted groups have noted that affiliation to the leading party is one of the main criteria for employment and often also for enrolling at universities or even passing exams.

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 and incorrect manner.

The respondents 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 8 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.

Election monitoring will be difficult, bearing in mind that any organisation providing such monitoring has to ensure substantial financial funds. Due to their small number foreign observers will not be able to control every aspect and to be present at every polling station during the whole day. It is anticipated that the election will be monitored mostly by domestic observers, notably from the “Democracy in Action” NGO, with one half of observers overseeing the polling stations and the other half controlling the counting of votes.

The fairness and loyalty of the election campaign depends mostly on the media. Analysts have estimated that practically every media house in Kosovo is directly or indirectly controlled by some political party. Currently the country has over 100 registered broadcasters, of which more than 20 are television houses and the rest are radio stations. Besides the public RTV Kosovo house there are two private national television houses (Televizija 21 and TV Kohavision).

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 problems of the young generation, bearing in mind that Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe. Functioning of the rule of law and its institutions in fighting crime and corruption and an efficient justice system will represent the basis for the development and prosperity of Kosovo and its integration through regional cooperation and friendly relations with the neighbouring countries. Creating a better and safer environment can attract new foreign investments. Ensuring 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 and the USA, especially among the young generation. Systematic control of the privatisation process should also be ensured as a key priority. The Special War Crimes Court will ensure that war leaders are eliminated from the political and public life. It should be noted that despite its ambitious targets the incumbent government has achieved very modest results in terms of obtaining new recognitions of Kosovo’s independence.

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The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans.