Rumours of early elections in Kosovo as power balance shifts

Rumours of early elections in Kosovo as power balance shifts
The opposition grabbed international attention by setting off tear gas in the parliament several times.
By Clare Nuttall in Bucharest June 3, 2016

Some major changes are expected in Kosovo after the elevation of the Democratic Party of Kosovo’s (PDK) Hashim Thaci to the presidency, while splits within both the opposition and - reportedly - the ruling coalition alter the balance of power in Pristina. There are even rumours that the PDK could push for early elections to boost its position in the parliament.

When Thaci became president in April he stepped down from the PDK’s leadership, leaving the post open for parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli, who was elected unanimously by party delegates on May 7. Veseli seems keen to bring his own people into senior PDK positions as well as calling for a “wide reformatting” of the government headed by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, of the PDK’s coalition partner the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

“If Mustafa wants only to change some names we can do that very quickly. However, we support the concept of a wide reformatting, said Veseli, the former head of the now disbanded Kosovo Intelligence Service, on May 20, according to BIRN.

After several months of negotiations following Kosovo’s June 2014 general election, the PDK and LDK finally struck a coalition deal. The parties are widely understood to have agreed that Mustafa would become prime minister, while the LDK’s MPs would back Thaci for president when Atifete Jahjaga’s term ended this year.

However, now that Thaci has been elected, there is speculation that the PDK could seek to challenge the status quo either through a reshuffle or - more dramatically - by picking a new coalition partner from among the opposition parties represented in parliament or even calling early elections.

There are numerous rumours of tensions between the PDK and LDK. Florina Duli-Sefaj, executive director of independent think tank the Kosovar Stability Initiative, believes the PDK is particularly unhappy with Mustafa, after a series of outspoken public statements mainly made on social media. In what may be a sign of things to come at national level, the coalition between the two parties recently broke up in the town of Peja.

“Now that Thaci has secured a five year term as president, the likelihood of new elections is quite high,” Duli-Sefaj told bne IntelliNews. “The PDK believes ... that citizens are disillusioned about the LDK leadership capacity and believe that the outcome of potential elections will place them in better negotiation positions and will secure the position of prime minister for Kadri Veseli.”

Analysts at Oxford Analytica have also observed a growing rift within the ruling coalition connected to personnel changes within the PDK as Veseli seeks to exert his influence. The lack of progress on most policy issues is another problem; in addition to the opposition’s disruption of the parliament, many MPs from the ruling parties now also fail to show up for parliamentary sessions.

There is speculation that either the PDK or the LDK could seek to form a new coalition with two opposition parties - the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AKK) and the Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma). Rumours that a rejigging of the coalition could be in the works may have been fuelled by the government, in a bid to split the alliance between AAK, Nisma and the Vetevendosje (Self Determination) movement.

Controversial deals

The opposition bloc was extremely active in 2015 and early 2016, putting pressure on the government to abandon two controversial deals - an agreement to set up an Association of Serb Municipalities within Kosovo and a border demarcation deal with Montenegro. The government is keen to ratify both deals as they are preconditions for Kosovo’s progress towards EU integration. However, the opposition argues they are a threat to Kosovan sovereignty.

Their campaign grabbed international attention when Vetevendosje MPs set off tear gas in the parliament several times, disrupting sessions on key issues. The parties also expressed their opposition to the deals through more legitimate means, holding a series of demonstrations in Pristina - though several times these degenerated into clashes with police.

This drew condemnation from the international community, but as well as criticising the opposition’s actions, international diplomats have also pushed for the two sides to work together amicably.

“Political differences will not disappear – and they should not disappear. This is what democracy is about. But a young, responsible democracy needs all parties and all actors to sit at the same table, and share their vision on the way forward for the country,” EU high representative Federica Mogherini said in an address to the Kosovan parliament on May 5.

However, while the ruling coalition looks shaky, the formerly united opposition has already split. The first reports of a rift came in April, when the AAK and Nisma refused to sign a pre-election agreement with Vetevendosje, which they accused of trying to “take over” the opposition.

Instead, the two parties drafted their own cooperation agreement, excluding their former partner. Vetevendosje responded by accusing AAK and Nisma of making overtures to the ruling parties with the aim of entering the government. There are also reports of a power struggle between Vetevendosje’s Albin Kurti and AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj.

The split is not altogether surprising; the three parties were united over their opposition to the deals with Serbia and Montenegro, but aside from that there is little common ground between Vetevendosje on the one hand and the AAK and Nisma on the other. The latter two have their origins in the war of independence - their leaders are former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders). Vetevendosje was founded later, in 2005, and takes an uncompromisingly nationalist stance.

It is also down to the failure of the opposition to make any major progress towards its goals. Duli-Sefaj believes the opposition failed to convince the public by clearly communicating what the consequences of the two deals would be for Kosovan sovereignty.

“The majority of Kosovan citizens do not understand the implications of the two processes at all. They have supported the opposition because a large number of citizens are deeply unhappy with the quality of governance,” she says.

Despite the machinations within the ruling coalition, the government is trying to take advantage of the weakened and divided opposition to push ahead with the two deals. They are under pressure from the EU, which has linked the border demarcation deal to visa liberalisation, and according to Oxford Analytica analysis, both Veseli and Thaci have been trying to find a solution to the deadlock, possibly through new negotiations with Montenegro. Meanwhile, implementing the deal on the Association of Serb Municipalities appears as controversial as ever, with both the Kosovan and the Serbian side staunchly adhering to their positions.