Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik
By Gjorgji Spasov
In two days, Kosovo will wrap up the election campaign for the new snap parliamentary elections on October 6th.
Before the new elections, the electoral landscape in Kosovo has changed significantly. The parties of the former PANA coalition of KLA military commanders (Haradinaj, Vejseli and Limaj), who formed the government after the 2107 elections, are now running on their own.
Kadri Vejseli’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) will fight for 100 seats in Parliament, which came after Hashim Thaci was elected president of Kosovo in 2016, with Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), running in coalition with Pristina Mayor Shpend Ahmeti’s Social Democratic Alternative for Kosovo (Nisma) of Fatmir Limaj, who is running in coalition with Bexhet Pacoli’s New Alliance for Kosovo, Albin Kurti and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) led by Isa Mustafa, who is the only one nominating a woman for prime minister of Kosovo.
The remaining 20 seats in Parliament, under Kosovo’s electoral law, are filled by MP lists drawn from ethnic parties. That is: from Serb parties (ten MPs) of the Roma, Ashkenazi Jew and Egyptian parties (four MPs), Bosniak parties (three MPs) to Turkish parties (two MPs) and Gorani parties (one MP seat).
Voting in Kosovo is according to proportional principal, with Kosovo being one constituency. The electoral threshold for entering a party in parliament is 5%. Voting lists are open where every citizen has the right to vote for up to five MPs from the voting list. And from that list, those MPs who won the largest number of votes regardless of where they were on the list, get a seat in Parliament. The number of MPs receiving seats on each list is calculated using the Sainte-Laguë method.
Citizens in the diaspora with the right to vote, estimated to be around one million in Kosovo, have the right to vote by mail if they register on time. But voter turnout is not very high. In the 2017 elections, 41.3 percent of more than 1.8 million voters registered in the electoral roll, and in the diaspora in 2017, only 20,000 citizens registered to vote, out of which only 15,000 exercised their right to vote.
In the short election campaign, which lasts only 10 days, all political party leaders point out that the most important problem the future government will have to deal with is reaching an agreement with Serbia and securing mutual recognition as a condition for Kosovo’s final stabilization. But this is not a simple task.
Talks between Serbia and Kosovo on normalizing relations are currently suspended. Their continuation is conditioned by Serbia’s abolition of customs duties by Kosovo on products from Serbia, and Kosovo resists pressure from the United States and the EU to abolish customs and demands that Serbia recognizes Kosovo’s independence.
Citizens of Kosovo have been expecting Kosovo’s independence to be completed in 1999, and then with certainty in 2008, but it looks like things are moving backwards, not forward.
Five EU member states (Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Romania and Slovakia) haven’t recognized Kosovo’s independence yet, and under pressure from Serbia and Russia, 13 countries withdrew their recognition.
During the vote for Kosovo’s membership in UNESCO, 50 countries voted against, and 51 countries abstained against Kosovo’s accession to Interpol and 16 abstained.
Kosovo has not yet received the promised visa liberalization, though it has submitted a two-thirds majority request in Parliament to ratify the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro.
The feeling among citizens that the United States and the EU are leaving Kosovo without the necessary support is increasing, and there is confusion over the idea of correcting the border with Serbia as one of the possible ways to normalize relations.
For the time being, mainly all parties are opposed to “corrections” at the border with Serbia, and Ramush Haradinaj has also stated that “These elections are a referendum on not changing Kosovo’s borders.” The idea is not ruled out by the United States if it leads to a lasting agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on mutual recognition, and Germany and France consider it very dangerous for the Balkans.
Disappointed by weak support from the US and the EU, oppositionists say Kosovo cannot afford to have politicians who insist “we do not need our own foreign policy as long as we are in the same club with the United States”, as Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said. They believe that Kosovo must act in international relations as a sovereign state, with its own independent policy that would not be in conflict with the policies of the Western allies, but would not be entirely servile to them.
Opinion polls in Kosovo by the National Democratic Institute in March this year show that in these elections, citizens will give the most support to those parties and leaders that will guarantee the resolution of two key issues. And that is tackling unemployment and fighting against crime.
According to official data from the State Statistical Office of Kosovo, the country’s GDP has grown 4% annually in the past 10 years. According to analysts, this economic growth is due primarily to large investments in the construction of a 2.5 billion euro road network and money coming from the numerous Albanian diaspora in the country. But despite this steady economic growth, Kosovo’s unemployment rate is around 30%. About 100,000 young people under the age of 24 who do not go to university or to school are unemployed. And in the last five years some 170,000 people, or just under 10% of Kosovo’s population, have left the country in search of work and better living conditions.
The country spends a lot of money on importing electricity and medical treatments for its citizens abroad. At the same time, 25% of Kosovo’s population still lacks access to clean drinking water while about 45% of citizens do not have a functioning sewage system. In many schools there are still about 40 children in one classroom, and these are serious problems that concern the citizens.
But a bigger problem than poverty, according to citizens, is crime. According to a BIRN survey, while combating crime and corruption is one of the conditions for visa liberalization, that fight in Kosovo is not properly fought.
Many officials have been suspected of war crimes by The Hague tribunal, there are numerous accusations against senior officials for crime and corruption, but all end in mild sentences or acquittals, and none of the convicted of crime and corruption lost their property.
Politics exerts strong pressure on the prosecution and judiciary, and the general impression is that “tenders” are in place and that tenders are massively set up to spend the state budget for personal purposes and earnings.
According to a March 2019 NDI public opinion poll, only 14 percent of citizens responded that Kosovo was moving in the right direction, 55.7 percent said politicians were unwilling to fight corruption because they have personal benefit of it, only 23 percent had confidence in the government, 22% in political parties, 23% in the country’s president, and 23% in the judiciary.
Therefore, Kosovo’s elections are expected with new hope for change to come out of a kind of general blockade of society from the inside and outside. Whether this will happen and who will carry the burden of forming a new government will be known in a few days.
According to recent polls on the mood in Kosovo, the biggest chance to win the election is given to the Albin Kurti’s Self-Determination party, which has been an opposition party for the past 10 years. This party now has a mild rhetoric about all the issues it was known for in its radical views. But the question is whether there will be coalition potential for forming a government.