Kosovo’s new government to face weighty tasks after general election

Kosovo’s new government to face weighty tasks after general election
AAK leader and Kosovo's likely next prime minister Ramush Haradinaj campaigns ahead of June 11 general election.
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia June 8, 2017

Kosovo will hold early parliamentary elections on June 11, after which the new government will have to address a number of serious problems, such as high unemployment, low income and high corruption as well as ensuring the parliament ratifies a controversial border deal with Montenegro. 

The probable winner is a coalition comprising the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and the Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma). The PDK, AAK and Nisma are all headed by former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) leaders, which was likely an important factor in the parties’ last-minute decision to run together. This year, a new war crimes court – the Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers – is expected to launch judicial activities to try former KLA fighters.

They are likely to defeat their main competitor, a coalition of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), led by Kosovo’s wealthiest businessman Behgjet Pacolli, and the newborn Alternativa.

A recent opinion poll by the Institute for Research and Social Analysis quoted by UNMIK’s news service, indicates that the PDK-AAK-Nisma coalition will win the election with 40.82% of the vote, with the LDK-AKR-Alternativa coalition trailing on just 30.22%. 

Vetevendosje (Self Determination), the biggest opposition party in the last parliament, is running without coalition partners and is likely to remain a significant opposition force in the new parliament. The poll of 3,500 respondents puts the party on 19.45%.

A key question is whether PDK-AAK-Nisma will gain enough votes to form a government with the support of the Serb List MPs. Should they fail to do this, they are unlikely to strike a coalition deal with Vetevendosje, and a more probable option would be to try to peel off one of the parties in the LDK-AKR-Alternative coalition. This would most likely mean a protracted period of negotiations as seen after the June 2014 election. 

Previously, the PDK and LDK formed a coalition in December 2014, following half a year of negotiations. However it collapsed on May 10, when Mustafa’s government lost a no-confidence motion as MPs from the PDK sided with the opposition to vote in favour of the motion.

Kosovo’s parliament has 120 lawmakers, elected by secret ballot on the basis of open lists. The seats are distributed amongst all parties, coalitions, citizens’ initiatives and independent candidates in proportion to the number of valid votes received by them in the general election. 20 seats are guaranteed for representatives of minority communities, with at least 10 going to representatives of the Kosovo Serb community.

On May 31, the Central Election Commission (CEC) certified the final voters’ list for the June 11 election. The list contains 1,872,941 names. Notably, the figure exceeds the country’s population as reported by the 2011 census. CEC pointed out that the voters’ list includes both Kosovan citizens living in the country and the diaspora, who are eligible to vote.

Much of the campaign rhetoric has focussed on Kosovo’s relationship with Serbia and the border deal with Montenegro, but issues such as poverty and unemployment are of great concern to many citizens. Kosovo’s GDP is forecast by the World Bank to grow by 3.9% in 2017, accelerating to 4.2% in 2018 and 4.4% in 2019, but it remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. 

Aside from addressing the economic concerns, a weighty task that remains for the new government is to ensure that the parliament ratifies a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, which is the last remaining condition before the EU lifts visas for Kosovo citizens. The move’s beneficial effect will be felt immediately and the international community strongly supports it. However, the previous ruling coalition did not manage to muster parliament support for ratification.

The border deal was signed by Kosovo and Montenegro on August 26, 2015, but Kosovo’s three main opposition parties strongly opposed its ratification, which became one of two main causes of a deep political crisis. Vetevendosje, the AAK and Nisma, as well as border region residents allege that the deal deprives Kosovo of several thousand hectares of land. Since the signing of the deal, the opposition had released tear gas in the parliament on many occasions and had also held street protests, some of which were marred by violence.

On May 30, Ramush Haradinaj, the prime ministerial candidate of the PDK-AAK-Nisma coalition, vowed that if he heads the new government, the EU visas will be lifted within 90 days. However, he has also said that he would renegotiate the border deal, Reuters reported, the outcome of which would be uncertain. 

The choice of AAK leader Haradinaj as Kosovo’s likely next prime minister could also throw up roadblocks in the already stalled normalisation process with Serbia. Many Serbs are nervous about that Haradinaj, who is seen as more of a hardline than either Mustafa or Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci, will further marginalise Kosovo’s Serb minority. 

The most likely reason the coalition picked him as its candidate for prime minister is that his popularity is high, following the recent failed attempt by Serbia to have him extradited from France to stand trial for alleged war crimes.

On June 7, Haradinaj commented in an interview with Deutsche Welle on the other main cause of Kosovo’s political crisis – an agreement on the establishment of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities. The agreement on the Association was reached by Kosovo’s outgoing government as part of its EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia. According to Haradinaj, the agreement cannot be implemented because Kosovo’s Constitutional Court found that it is in violation with the Constitution, Gazeta Express reported.

On December 23, 2015, Kosovo's Constitutional Court said that some of the principles of the deal that gives more rights to Serbs in Kosovo were not fully in line with the Constitution, and should be changed before the implementation of the deal.

Haradinaj also angered Belgrade by telling Deutsche Welle that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and acting Prime Minister Ivica Dacic “should apologise to Kosovo for the crimes committed during the war”. The Kosovan politician said, “I knew also their bosses [former dictator Slobodan] Milosevic and [Serbian far right leader Vojislav] Seselj. They are their students. They should stand before Albanians with their heads bowed down, considering what they did to them. Apologising is the first thing they should do,” he said, B92 reported.

This kind of rhetoric is usual ahead of elections in both Kosovo and Serbia, but after the events earlier this year getting the normalisation process back on track with Haradinaj as Kosovan prime minister could be tricky. 

Nonetheless, the incentive of progressing towards EU membership is a strong incentive for both Kosovo and Serbia that has brought former KLA commanders and politicians from Belgrade who refuse to recognise Kosovo as an independent state to the negotiating table. 

EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn stressed this during an official visit to Serbia on June 8, reiterating that progress in Pristina-Belgrade dialogue is a prerequisite for advancements on the EU path for both countries.