Kosovo opposition protesters pitch tents in central Pristina

Kosovo opposition protesters pitch tents in central Pristina
By bne IntelliNews February 24, 2016

Opposition activists set up tents in front of the main government building in Pristina on February 23, in advance of a vote that is expected to confirm Hashim Thaci as the country’s next president.

The opposition Vetevendosje (Self Determination) party said the purpose of the protest was to prevent Thaci, currently the country’s foreign minister, from becoming president and to force the government to resign. Thaci was Kosovo’s prime minister for two terms, and is now expected to be voted the country’s next president by the parliament under a deal struck between his Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) and its coalition partner the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

A statement published on Vetevendosje’s Facebook page said that several thousand people would stay on Pristina’s central square “for a few days”. The party appealed to supporters to help with food deliveries to the protesters.

Vetevendosje leader Visar Ymeri was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that they would stay there "until the government resigns and fresh elections are declared."

Activists from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma) also pitched tents in the square. There were 30 tents in the evening of February 23, according to BIRN. Photographs from the square show brightly coloured small tents as well as white marquees.

A vote on the country’s next president, who is appointed by the parliament rather than by a direct popular vote, cold take place as early as this week.

Under the coalition deal struck between the DPK and the LDK in 2014, Thaci stood down as prime minister, making way for the LDK’s Isa Mustafa, but the parties are understood to have agreed that Thaci will be appointed president when Atifete Jahjaga stands down in April.

At present, Thaci is the only candidate for the post. However, his appointment is not a foregone conclusion. Seven LDK MPs have already said they oppose his election and others could reject the party line in the secret ballot. Since a two-thirds majority is required in the first round of voting, Thaci also needs the support of the Serb List MPs to secure victory.

A deal struck with Belgrade in August 2015, including plans for an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities, is expected to keep the Serb List MPs behind the government. However, this agreement, and a separate border demarcation deal with Montenegro, enraged the opposition, resulting in a series of protests both within and outside the parliament in 2015 and 2016.

Two mass rallies have taken place this year, on January 9 and on February 17. The second was peaceful, but in January protestors set fire to a government building.

Opposition MPs have also let off tear gas within the parliament on numerous occasions, preventing discussions of key legislation from going ahead. At the first session after the winter recess on February 19, MPs, journalists and parliament officials brought gas masks to the assembly in anticipation of another attack.

Nine opposition MPs were arrested after releasing tear gas at the session and others have been suspended from the parliament, which could undermine the legitimacy of the upcoming presidential vote. It is also not clear whether all 120 MPs are required to be present for the vote though the precedent set by a 2011 constitutional court decision indicates that they are.