Kosovo PM wins but voters angry at graft

By bne IntelliNews December 13, 2010

Phil Cain in Graz, Austria -

The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci saw its support decline, but still emerged the strongest force in December 12's election after a campaign that focused on corruption allegations.

Thaci was thwarted in his hopes that the snap election might be a chance to capitalise on the disarray of the rival Democratic League (LDK). With just over half the votes counted, the PDK was said to have secured a 31% share, three percentage points lower than in the last elections in 2007. The LDK, led by the mayor of Pristina, Isa Mustafa, managed 26%, an improvement of three percentage points.

The left-nationalist Self-Determination movement led by 35-year-old Albin Kurti took third place and the Future Alliance (AAK) led by former rebel leader Ramush Haradinaj, currently awaiting trial on war crimes charges in The Hague, took fourth with 11%. The New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) of multi-millionaire construction magnate Behgjet Pacolli won almost 8%.

The LDK, part of a grand coalition until its collapse in November, has ruled out rejoining the PDK in government. This leaves the AAK and AKR as coalition candidates, with the Self-Determination movement ruled out because of its backing for a union of Kosovo with neighbouring Albania. In terms of policy, there is little to separate them. The 20 MPs representing minorities, half of them Serbs, are expected to join the governing majority. More Serbs are thought to have taken part, but official figures have yet to be released.

Democracy in Action, an independent monitoring organisation, said the election was "extremely manipulated" in the municipalities of Skenderaj and Drenas, both PDK strongholds. Turnout in these areas was 86% and 94% respectively, well above the above the national average of 47.8%.

The individual winners and losers of the poll are also not yet known. An amendment to the election law enacted in late October means voters can give their support to the five members of their preferred party they would like to support, rather than relying on the hierarchy set out in the party's list of candidates. A similar open-list system was first introduced first in the 2007 elections, but by offering 10 choices of candidate it meant each selection carried less weight.

Hard graft

The 10-day campaign was dominated by the issue of corruption, thanks to several high-profile cases waiting in the wings, which may have prompted voters to withhold backing from those linked to them. But the extent to which they did may, to a large extent, depend on whether the well-established system of voter bribery and blackmail was in operation.

Many were scornful of the PDK's slogan "Kosovo first" given the legal troubles facing its candidates. At numbers four and five on the PDK list, for example, were Fatmir Limaj and Azem Syla. Limaj, the transport minister and deputy party leader, is awaiting an indictment on charges of corruption after a house search in the spring, while a former secret service agent accuses Syla of having ordered a murder. Thaci himself, whose older brother Gani runs a lucrative import business, is not above the prosecutor's suspicion. The corruption side of the investigation centres on four ministries: health, education, social affairs and finance.

By contrast Mustafa, the LDK leader, is generally thought diligent and incorruptible. The LDK ministers who served in the coalition government for the last three years alongside the PDK have also been relatively untainted by corruption allegations. That said, they are not famed for their initiative either. With precious little legitimate economic activity to speak of – around half the population is unemployed – Kosovo's ministers' role generally extends to little more than trying to devise projects to attract sponsorship from abroad.

With little to separate the party programmes, the party standings may be less significant in the coming years than how many corrupt politicians voters dared to eject.

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