Kosovan MPs elected foreign minister Hashim Thaci as the country’s new president in three rounds of voting on February 26, as opposition protests raged outside the parliament.
Thaci, Kosovo’s former prime minister, was expected to take the presidency under a deal struck between his Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) and its coalition partner after the 2014 general election. However, he gained sufficient support from lawmakers only in the third and final round of voting, with Kosovo narrowly avoiding snap elections.
Opposition MPs boycotted the vote, and Thaci did not achieve the required support of two-thirds of all lawmakers in the first two rounds, but the third and last round required a simple majority. Thaci was supported by 71 lawmakers in the 120-seat assembly in the third round. 81 MPs participated in the election, with the remaining 10 votes being invalid.
The only other candidate to stand for the presidency was another member of the DPK, Rafet Rama, who gained only a handful of votes in the first two rounds of voting.
The European Union representative in Kosovo, Samuel Zbogar, US ambassador Greg Delawie, as well as other diplomats attended the session.
Kosovo’s current president Atifete Jahjaga is due to stand down on April 7, after which Thaci will serve a five-year term as president.
The leader of the DPK, Thaci is a former leader of the Kosovan Liberation Army (KLA), the guerilla force that fought for Kosovo’s independence against Serbia. He served two terms as prime minister after Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, but stood down after the 2014 elections making way for Isa Mustafa, leader of the DPK’s coalition partner the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). The parties are understood to have agreed that Thaci would be appointed president when Jahjaga’s term expired.
Opposition lawmakers released tear gas in the parliament in an attempt to stop the election, and parliament speaker Kadri Veseli ejected 11 members of opposition parties. Veseli warned that should the election of the president fail, this will trigger the dissolution of parliament and snap elections within 45 days.
Outside the parliament, about 1,000 opposition supporters protested and threw Molotov cocktails. The police responded with tear gas and water cannons.
The opposition Vetevendorsje (Self Determination) party says that a camp set up by several hundred opposition activists outside the main government building in Pristina on February 23 was also targeted by police. The party claims police “acted improperly” by raiding the camp with “special units and police dogs” as its organisers had permission from the Kosovo municipal government to stay on the square until March 8.
In recent months, Kosovo’s three main opposition parties, Vetevendorsje, Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma), have held numerous demonstrations demanding the resignation of the government and early elections. They are against EU-brokered deals struck by Pristina with Serbia, giving more rights to Serbs in Kosovo, and a border demarcation deal with Montenegro. There is especially strong opposition to an agreement on the formation of an association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo.
A government statement issued after Thaci’s election did not comment on the protests, but said the election of a new president was “an important step in further functionality of the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo".
“The government of the Republic of Kosovo expresses full commitment to to the further integration of the country into Euro-Atlantic structures and strengthening the partnership with the US and other friendly countries,” the statement added.