Kosovan parties sign deal to form government, ending political stalemate

Kosovan parties sign deal to form government, ending political stalemate
Kosovo's likely next prime minister Ramush Haradinaj.
By bne IntelliNews September 4, 2017

The three parties in Kosovo’s PAN coalition led by the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) signed a deal with the New Kosovo Alliance to form a new government on September 4.

This will put an end to the political vacuum in Kosovo, which has been without governing institutions since the inconclusive June election. The deal was signed after the leader of the liberal New Kosovo Alliance, Behgjet Pacolli, officially confirmed that the party’s pre-election coalition deal with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) had broken down.

"With this coalition, we will push the process forward," PAN’s candidate for prime minister Ramush Haradinaj was cited by broadcaster RTK.

The PAN coalition — made up of three parties led by former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders — took the largest share of the vote in the June election, but did not gain enough seats in the parliament to form a government alone.

Ever since the election, leaders of the PDK and its coalition partners have been trying to persuade other parties in the new parliament to support its government, opening talks with the New Kosovo Alliance in an attempt to persuade its MPs to quit their previous coalition with the Democratic League of Kosovo and Alternativa, and support PAN’s government.

After a long meeting with LDK leader and acting Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, Pacolli confirmed that his party is no longer part of the LAA coalition, broadcaster RTK reported earlier on September 4.

Having struck a deal with the New Kosovo Alliance, which was was formed in May 2006 by businessman Pacolli, the new coalition will have 63 seats in the 120-seat assembly.

President Hashim Thaci now is expected soon to give a mandate to Haradinaj to form the government.

Haradinaj previously forecast that the session to election a parliament speaker would take place by the end of this week. This followed the parliament’s fifth failure to elect a speaker at a session on August 24. 

Guns in government 

The PAN coalition was formed ahead of the election which took place days before the Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers, set up to try former KLA fighters, became operational. Its main rival was seen as the LAA coalition led by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo, which had advocated peaceful resistance against Serbian oppression, resulting in an election dubbed the “guns” against the “roses”

The chambers will investigate a range of allegations against KLA members, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, as detailed in the Council of Europe’s 2010 Marty Report, which prompted the EU to establish a special investigative task force. Among the top politicians mentioned in Marty’s report are Thaci, Kadri Veseli (the PDK’s new head who took over when Thaci became Kosovo’s president) and Fatmir Limaj, the leader of Nisma — the third party in the PAN coalition. 

Its choice of prime minister, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) leader Haradinaj, is a controversial one given his wartime history and his hardline stance on relations with Serbia. 

He was detained in Basel on a Serbian war crimes warrant at the beginning of this year. Belgrade wanted the politician tried for war crimes committed in Kosovo in 1999, but the Court of Appeals in the French town of Colmar ruled in April that he would not be extradited to Serbia. 

Haradinaj, who denied all the allegations, was previously cleared of war crimes charges in two trials by a UN war crimes tribunal in 2008 and 2012. After his arrest, his lawyers argued that he had already been tried and acquitted by the Hague Tribunal for the same crimes.

He returned to Pristina to a hero’s welcome, which probably contributed to the decision to choose him as PAN’s nominee for prime minister. 

On the other hand, the decision has unnerved Serbs living in Kosovo. Ahead of the election, Haradinaj told Deutsche Welle that if he becomes the prime minister, the agreement on the establishment of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities — a key agreement under the Belgrade-Pristina normalisation process — will not be implemented. While Thaci now represents Kosovo in the EU-brokered discussions with Serbia, as prime minister Haradinaj will still influence the way Pristina handles the Serb minority in the country. 

Changing times 

The striking of a deal with Pacolli’s New Kosovo Alliance ensures the PDK, which has been in government since 2007 — the year before Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia — will remain in power. Its position is further reinforced by the election of its former leader, Thaci, as president. 

The party has managed to hold onto power despite the PAN coalition’s worse than expected performance in the June general election, where it failed to achieve a parliamentary majority. 

The left wing Vetevendosje unexpectedly took second place, and now has 32 MPs in the parliament, reflecting many Kosovans’ disillusionment with mainstream political parties. Vetevendosje pushed the LAA coalition comprising the LDK, New Kosovo Alliance and Alternativa into third place. 

The head of the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMiK), Zahir Tanin, spoke on August 16 of a “shift in the configuration of the political landscape of Kosovo” seen in the election. 

“The main coalition [PAN] was unable to achieve an outright majority, some parties improved their share marginally, while the long-standing opposition gained considerably,” the UN official said. 

He talked of a “tidal wave of change”, with “many voters, particularly the younger generation” prioritising “jobs, access to education and economic opportunities, reducing corruption and strengthening the rule of law” above the ethno-nationalist rhetoric that has historically been the main tool for mobilising voters. 

Vetevendosje had hoped to push the PDK out of power, and was reportedly in talks with the LDK, but by detaching Pacolli’s party from its coalition parties, the PDK managed to ensure it will remain in office. 

The party pulled off a similar feat after Kosovo’s last election in 2014, when it repeatedly blocked the efforts of a group of opposition parties to elect a speaker. In the end one of the parties — the LDK — agreed to join the PDK in government. 

Looking ahead 

With a new government now likely to be formed within days, Pristina will at last be able to address some of the pressing issues that have been piling up during the summer. Chief among these are local media reports that some public sector salaries and benefits have been unpaid recently. 

In addition, international observers have repeatedly warned of the damage the lengthy delay in forming a government is doing to the country’s economy. 

The IMF said on July 31 that it was shelving the final review of its stand-by arrangement (SBA) with Kosovo, as well as the final disbursement of around €15mn, because of the absence of a new regular government in the Balkan country. This made it impossible for IMF officials to complete their review, Ruud Vermeulen, the IMF resident representative in Kosovo, told bne IntelliNews. 

Tanin later warned that Pristina was missing out on important economic opportunities due to the political crisis. “[A] functional institutional vacuum has hampered progress on a full panoply of governance priorities. Important economic and social opportunities were missed during such a period,” the UN official said in a debate on UNMiK in the UN Security Council on August 16. 

This has been backed up in statements by other international figures, most recently EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who Tweeted on September 2 that "#Kosovo has no time to lose. Calling on all parliamentary parties to constitute the Assembly & form a govt promptly, to deliver on reforms”.