A compromise in Kosovo

By bne IntelliNews April 8, 2011

Phil Cain in Graz, Austria -

A US-mediated deal has resolved Kosovo's first institutional crisis since declaring independence, with a cross-party agreement to install a 35-year-old police officer as president.

A startled Atifete Jahjaga, deputy head of Kosovo's police force, reportedly picked up the phone on the morning of April 6 to hear US ambassador Christopher Dell asking if she would take the job. She agreed, and was duly named the official consensus candidate in a press conference later in the day along with an agreement for parliamentary elections and a direct presidential election next year.

Attending Jahjaga's unveiling, presided over by Dell, were: Prime Minister Hashim Thaci; Behgjet Pacolli, leader of the government coalition member, the New Kosovo Alliance, and the previous candidate for president; and Isa Mustafa, leader of the opposition Democratic League (LDK). With these backers, her election by parliament is a shoo-in.

The agreement to install Jahjaga has secured the immediate survival of Thaci's government, which looked close to collapse after failing to deliver on its promise to make Pacolli president. Thaci promised him the job in February in a bid to conclude coalition negotiations which had rumbled on since snap elections in December.

The Constitutional Court had other ideas and stymied the deal in April, finding Pacolli's election vote in parliament as president on February 22 to be unconstitutional because fewer than two-thirds of Kosovo's 120 MPs took part and no alternative candidate was offered.

The opposition was poised to use the same trick to boycott any fresh attempt to install Pacolli, a controversial figure for having built his fortune on the back of business deals in 1990s Russia, a country implacably opposed to Kosovo's independence declaration in February 2008.

Busted flush

Local commentators say, however, that this week's deal is the beginning of the end for Thaci whose reputation is irrevocably damaged by being unable to resolve the crisis without outside help. Thaci had already lost ground in December's election, tainted by vote-rigging requiring re-runs in several areas.

Thaci's troubles started before the election, which was triggered by the dissolution of the "grand coalition" between his Democrats and the LDK. The LDK's Fatmir Sejdiu stepped down as president in late September because the Constitutional Court said he could not serve as head of state and head of a party. In November, he lost the party leadership to Isa Mustafa. "At the time when Kosovo's institutions have been damaged and many questions whether Kosovo is capable providing justice for its people, I believe Atifete Jahjaga will be an important symbol of the country's commitment to justice," said Dell. "Her presidency will mark the beginning of a new and constructive chapter in this country's history."

Jahjaga is a little-known figure in Kosovo, though a favourite for photo calls with visiting US politicians, being pictured shaking hands hands of George W Bush and Hillary Clinton. Having studied law, she won rapid promotion on joining the Kosovo police in 2000, receiving training at the FBI Academy and Bramshill in the UK, rising to be second in charge in 2009.

Having women in the police has changed its image from being a "strong hand" and has "brought policing closer to the people," Jahjaga told a women's police magazine last year. She comes from a Muslim family in the town of Gjakova in western Kosovo and is married to a dentist, with whom she has no children, enough to raise eyebrows in socially-conservative Kosovo.

Around 14% of Kosovo's police officers are women, compared to 22% in the UK and 24% in Germany. In politics, the situation is better on paper, with women make up around 30% of MPs, although few wield significant power. "There is always a solution for a problem," Jahjaga said in last year's police magazine interview. "Sometimes you just have to try harder."

The most important factor in her rise to the presidency, however, was not effort to achieve it, but being a respected, politically-neutral figure in a country where there are few to be found.

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