Kosovo’s main opposition bloc has signed a deal with the nationalist Vetëvendosje party that will allow it to secure a majority in parliament. The agreement, signed on September 10, paves the way for a new government in Kosovo, more than three months after the June elections.
The Vetëvendosje (Self Determination) party announced on September 10 that it has signed an agreement on the principles of government with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma), three parties that united immediately after the June 8 election. The LDK-AAK-Nisma bloc already has a combined total of 47 seats in the parliament. Vetëvendosje, the third largest group represented in the parliament, adds an additional 16 seats, and the bloc also has support from around 20 deputies representing minority communities
This means that although outgoing Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) took the largest share of the vote on June 8, the party will be forced into opposition since it has been unable to form a new coalition. Thaci’s expected replacement is AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj.
However, before a new government can be elected, the Kosovan parliament first needs to elect a speaker, after a previous attempt resulted in a battle through the constitutional court. On July 17, the parliament voted LDK leader Isa Mustafa in as speaker, but the following day the DPK appealed to the country's constitutional court, claiming that his appointment was “unconstitutional and unlawful”. There was speculation that Kosovo could be heading for a new round of snap elections to resolve the impasse. However, on August 22, the court backed the DPK’s appeal, ruling that as the largest group represented in the parliament, it had the right to put forward its candidate for speaker.
A vote on the DPK’s candidate is now expected to take place on September 12. If - as is likely given the DPK’s lack of allies in parliament - the party’s candidate is not approved by the parliament, the opposition will have the right to propose its candidate.
The coalition partners are already looking ahead to the new government. “Today begins a major change in Kosovo. After disabling the return of the old regime with a new government, we are now enabling a new government without the regime, where the citizen of the republic will be in the spotlight,” Vetëvendosje leader Albin Kurti told journalists after the talks with coalition partners. Formerly a fringe movement, Vetëvendosje, which converted to a political party ahead of the 2010 parliament elections, has now become a substantial force in Kosovan politics.
"We will work for the European perspective and to an ever greater integration. The key will be the establishment of a democratic and open dialogue with the Serbian minority in Kosovo," Mustafa told journalists on September 10, ANSA reported.
However, relations with both Belgrade and Kosovo’s Serbian minority could prove problematic for the new government. A key concession made to Vetëvendosje - which the three existing coalition partners have been keen to bring on board - is to allow the strongly nationalist party to lead talks with Serbia on normalisation of relations between the two countries.
In late August, the EU, which is overseeing the talks, indicated it was getting impatient with the lack of progress since the June election. “The Balkan region, including Kosovo, has seen progress in the recent years, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in order to fulfil the standards required in the process of integration. Talks between Kosovo and Serbia must continue, given that this will help in the normalisation of relations between them,” said the EU’s then foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on August 26.
According to the agreement, the new Kosovan government “will appoint the leader of the talks from the ranks of Self Determination”. However, the party has previously demanded that Belgrade recognise Kosovan independence before talks can take place. It also wants a referendum on unification with Albania.
Despite potential obstacles in the talks with Serbia, the formation of a new government will reduce fears of instability should the political vacuum continue.
Stimulating the economy will be one of the new government’s main challenges. Kosovo remains one of the poorest country's in Europe, with high levels of corruption and organised crime. The average monthly salary is just €350, and an estimated 34% of the population lives below the poverty line on under €45 a month, according to the World Bank. Unemployment is 45%, with youth unemployment as high as 70%.
Kosovo, along with other countries in south-east Europe, has also had to step up its fight against extremism recently. In August, 44 people were arrested on suspicion of fighting in Syria and Iraq, and recruiting other Kosovan nationals to the Islamic State and other terrorist movements.
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