Kosovo to hold early elections after government loses confidence vote

Kosovo to hold early elections after government loses confidence vote
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia May 10, 2017

Kosovo is heading for early elections after Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s government lost a no-confidence motion on May 10. MPs from the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) – the coalition partner of Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) – sided with the opposition to vote in favour of the motion.

Kosovan politics has been deadlocked for months as the government repeatedly failed to persuade lawmakers to back a critical border demarcation treaty with neighbouring Montenegro, a step Pristina had to take to continue its path towards EU integration. Early elections could result in a less fragmented parliament, making it easier for the next government to ratify the treaty (which needs a two-thirds majority) as well as carry out other reforms.

The motion was supported by 78 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament, 34 opposed it and three abstained, according to a parliament statement.

Shortly after the vote, Kosovan President Hashim Thaci dissolved the parliament, and is expected to set a date for an early general election within the next 30-45 days. 

The no-confidence motion was initiated by the opposition party Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma), and supported by fellow opposition parties, Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) and the the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK). 

The primary cause of the confidence vote was the agreement with Montenegro concerning the demarcation of the border between the two countries. The ratification of this border agreement is also the sole unfulfilled requirement of the EU before it agrees to lift its visa requirement for the people of Kosovo. However, Kosovo’s three main opposition parties strongly oppose the move.

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 has released tear gas in the parliament on several occasions and held street protests, some of which were marred by violence.

Ratification requires a two-thirds majority, and even within the PDK and the LDK support for ratification is not unanimous. As of May 3, the 11 ethnic Serbian representatives in the parliament had not clarified whether they would support ratification either.

Last September, Mustafa withdrew the ratification of the border agreement from the parliament’s agenda, as he assessed that the conditions for the vote were not favourable. However, in recent weeks there has been mounting international pressure on Kosovo to ratify the agreement. The EU turned down a proposal from Mustafa for conditional visa liberalisation in April.

A deep political crisis resulted from the deal with Montenegro, as well as another agreement with Serbia reached by the current government in August 2015. The second deal envisages the creation of a community of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo.

MP Valdete Bajrami, who filed the no-confidence motion, stressed that Kosovo is in a political crisis and that the country needs a new governing approach.  In addition to the agreements with Montenegro and Serbia, she also criticised Mustafa’s government for the country’s economic underdevelopment (which she blamed on mismanagement), unemployment, deterioration of the education system and mass emigration from Kosovo. 

Mustafa defended his government to the parliament, stressing the strong economic growth rate, a recent deal reached with the International Monetary Fund and the progress made towards visa liberalisation with the EU. 

However, the chairman of the PDK’s parliamentary group, Zenun Pajaziti, implied that many of the successes of the current government were down to previous administrations led by his party. While criticising the opposition’s blocking of the deal with Montenegro, he said the PDK would vote “in accordance with the will of citizens”. 

Following the collapse of the government, it now seems unlikely that any of the parties in the parliament will be able to form a new government, meaning Kosovo have to hold 

The PDK and LDK, which have 36 and 33 MPs respectively, struck a coalition deal in December 2014, six months after the June general election. The three parties currently in opposition, together with the LDK, initially tried to form a government and force out the PDK, which has been in power since Kosovo gained its independence from Serbia in 2008.

However, this was repeatedly blocked by the PDK, which eventually struck a coalition deal with the LDK. Under the agreement between the two parties, Mustafa was appointed prime minister while his predecessor, PDK leader Hashim Thaci, became president when the incumbent Atifete Jahjaga’s term ended in 2016. MPs from the LDK fulfilled their side of the bargain, and Thaci was elected president by the parliament. Recently, however, there have been frequent rumours of tensions within the government and the PDK’s decision to back away from its coalition partner was not unexpected.