Coalition of ex-KLA parties wins Kosovo’s early general election

Coalition of ex-KLA parties wins Kosovo’s early general election
Kosovo's likely next prime minister, AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj.
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia June 12, 2017

A coalition comprising the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and the Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma) looks to be the winner in the early parliamentary elections held on June 11, according to preliminary results published by Kosovo’s Central Election Commission (CEC). 

However, the coalition appears set to take only around 35% of the vote meaning it is unlikely to be able to form a majority alone and will face the difficult task of finding coalition partners. Kosovo’s last parliamentary election in 2014 was followed by six months of uncertainty as negotiations on a new government dragged on. 

The PDK, AAK and Nisma are all headed by former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) leaders, which was likely an important factor in the parties’ last-minute decision to run together. This year, a new war crimes court – the Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers – is expected to launch judicial activities to try former KLA fighters.

The coalition’s choice for prime minister, AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj, is wanted for war crimes by Serbia. Belgrade recently lost an attempt to have him extradited from France to stand trial. 

However, with most of the votes counted, it is unclear whether the PDK-AAK-Nisma coalition will be able to form a government. After processing 91% of the polling stations, the coalition had won 34.6% of the votes, the CEC said. The voter turnout was about 40%.

This was well below the forecast in a recent poll, which put the coalition on over 40% of the vote. Vetevendosje (Self Determination), the biggest opposition party in the last parliament, also defied expectations by winning 26.75% (around 10 points higher than expected) to take second place. The unexpectedly high level of support for Vetevendosje is most likely a factor of Kosovan’s dissatisfaction with their political elite. The party has placed itself firmly outside the political mainstream, and has not shied away from using violence - including on the several occasions when its MPs set off smoke bombs in the parliament. 

A coalition of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), led by Kosovo’s wealthiest businessman Behgjet Pacolli, and the newborn Alternativa, was pushed into third place with just 25.81% of the vote. 

Kosovo’s parliament has 120 lawmakers, elected by secret ballot on the basis of open lists. The seats are distributed amongst all parties, coalitions, citizens’ initiatives and independent candidates in proportion to the number of valid votes received by them in the general election. Representatives of minority communities are guaranteed 20 seats, with at least 10 going to representatives of the Kosovo Serb community.

Previously, the PDK and LDK formed a coalition in December 2014, following half a year of negotiations. However it collapsed on May 10, when Mustafa’s government lost a no-confidence motion as MPs from the PDK sided with the opposition to vote in favour of the motion.

Nonetheless, the PDK-AAK-Nisma alliance may reach out to one or more parties from the rival coalition led by the LDK as it tries to form a new government. 

Two outstanding issues have caused a deep political crisis in Kosovo: One of them is parliament's ratification of a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro and the other is an agreement on the establishment of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities.

The border deal was signed by Kosovo and Montenegro on August 26, 2015, and its ratification is the last remaining condition before the EU lifts visas for Kosovo citizens. However, Kosovo’s Vetevendosje, the AAK and Nisma have strongly opposed the ratification, have border region residents. 

Since the signing of the deal, Vetevendosje MPs have released tear gas in the parliament on many occasions and had also held street protests, some of which were marred by violence.

On May 30, AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj, who is the prime ministerial candidate of the PDK-AAK-Nisma coalition, vowed that if he heads the new government, the EU visas will be lifted within 90 days. However, he has also said that he would renegotiate the border deal, the outcome of which would be uncertain.

The Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities has also caused controversy within Kosovo, and has been one of the causes of the stalling of the normalisation process between Belgrade and Pristina. 

The Serb minority in Kosovo has been unnerved by the prospect of Haradinaj, who is seen as more hardline than other former KLA leaders such as President Hashim Thaci, becoming prime minister. They fear he will further marginalise the Serb minority and aggravate relations with Belgrade. 

With regard to the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, on June 7 Haradinaj said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that the agreement cannot be implemented because Kosovo’s Constitutional Court found that it is in violation with the Constitution.

Most recently, in an interview with the Voice of America, Haradinaj said that the dialogue with Belgrade will continue, but he will seek the involvement of the United States. "We ask that the US has a role in the dialogue. The dialogue for us is recognition of Kosovo, a conversation between two independent states, between two neighbours. In no scenario do we see it as a conversation about domestic issues in Kosovo," the likely new prime minister said. According to him, the current “era" of the discussions is over. Haradinaj added: "We gave it a chance, but obviously there is a deadlock.”