Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Kosovo 2019 early parliamentary election: Citizens want political changes


The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in Kosovo in the light of the early parliamentary election scheduled for 6 October 2019. 

The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “Kosovo 2019 early parliamentary election: the citizens want political changes” are published below.

On 6 October 2019 the fourth (early) parliamentary election is taking place in Kosovo since the country proclaimed its independence on 17 February 2008. 

The Kosovo Assembly (parliament) has 120 members, of which 20 seats are reserved for representatives of minority communities as follows: 10 seats for the Serbian community, 3 for the Bosniak community, 2 for the Turkish community, 4 for the Roma (RAE – Romani, Ashkali and Egyptians) and 1 for the Gorans. There are 1,060 candidates competing for the 120 seats in the Assembly. 46,917 voters have been removed from the electoral roll, either because they are deceased or they have renounced Kosovo citizenship since the 2017 local election.

In the Kosovo Central Election Commission's (CIK) electoral roll for the forthcoming early parliamentary election there are 1,937,869 voters in 38 municipalities with altogether 1,780,021 inhabitants. Kosovo citizens in the diaspora have the right to vote until 5 October 2019. CIK has enabled 35.087 citizens who live abroad to vote by post. 

There will be 20 political parties, four coalitions and one independent candidate from the Bosniak community competing at the election. The campaign kicked off on 25 September 2019 and will only last 10 days. Analysts have estimated the forthcoming parliamentary election as one of the most uncertain elections that will be also “fateful” for many. The strongest political parties have already exchanged some harsh accusations, which makes it practically impossible for them to enter into an eventual post-election coalition. 

Kosovo is one of the countries in the region (such as Macedonia) that has problems with the unconsolidated and untrustworthy electoral roll – it is improbable that there are more voters than inhabitants in the country.  

The roots of crime in Kosovo

Kosovo's current political leaders announced accelerated development of the state and promised to build strong institutions that will enable inner stability and peace, thus contributing to stability and peace in the region. However, those promises have not been realised. Even worse, Kosovo citizens are deeply disappointed with the ruling political structures. They are the only country in the region without the visa-free regime. Nowhere in the world have political-criminal structures built strong institutions. Kosovo has become an illustrative example of a country that is in a permanent political crisis, since the incumbent political structures produce crises in order to remain in power. 

So far Kosovo authorities haven't been successful in fighting corruption and organised crime. In order to fight crime and corruption the authorities would first have to deal with crime and corruption among their own rows. Why have no Kosovo high officials been apprehended and prosecuted yet? 

Nepotism is present in all segments of Kosovo's society, and everything is controlled by the top structures of political parties. The roots of today's crime in Kosovo stem from its government-in-exile. The main nest of crime are the former commanders of Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK-OVK) and (para)intelligence services (ShIK) in cooperation with political structures. ShIK should have been dissolved in 2008, since the official Kosovo intelligence agency (AKI-KIA) was established in 2009.  

Strong connections can be observed in recent past between the present political leaders and huge amounts of money raised through various funds. The Vendlindja thrret (Homeland is calling) fund was controlled by one of the present leaders of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and his brother. Money was raised throughout Europe for this fund. The Levizja Popullore e Kosoves national movement formed in 1997-1998 raised money in the diaspora. The result was the establishment of Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) in 1999. The Fond 3% fund was established in 1991 and was controlled by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). 

Those activities were not transparent and involved the closest family members of Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi (PDK). Some of them have already been prosecuted, which also opens the possibility for prosecuting Thaçi before the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor's Office (KSC-SPO).  One of Thaçi's brothers plays a special role in Kosovo Insurance Bureau (BKS) and controls the complete financial system through the Central Bank of Kosovo (BQK). 

There have also been numerous cases of non-transparent privatisation of companies such as Sharrcem (the cement factory) in which Hashim Thaçi is involved in the ownership structure, Amortizeri in Pristina and Feronikel in Glogovac (Drenas). This triggers the question of how the Kosovo Energy Corporation (KEK), distribution, airport and road construction services were privatised or how concession was granted for them to the Turks. There are many other cases of crime, corruption and intimidation in Kosovo. 

EU representatives in Kosovo (the EULEX mission) have expressed concern over the reported cases of threats, intimidation and pressure. The political elites have divided their interest spheres between themselves and operate according to an informal agreement of not working against each other.  

Crime and corruption continues after the international intervention and the 1999 war in Kosovo. Nepotism is present in all segments of the society, and everything is controlled by the top structures of political parties. Another example is the company Devolli from Peć which claims to have lost EUR 30 million in an arbitration process against the state of Kosovo (i.e. Telekom Kosova – PTK), while in fact it is the state of Kosovo which lost that sum of money in the arbitration. Again, connections have been found with President Hashim Thaçi and LDK Chairman Isa Mustafa. This is a clear case of “politisation of crime and criminalisation of politics”.

Enver Hoxhaj definitely stopped international recognitions

International recognitions of Kosovo have been halted for the past five years.  The country failed to seize the best moment for gaining those recognitions when it had a chance. The two former coalition partners Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) led by Isa Mustafa and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) led by Kadri Veseli brought Kosovo into a difficult situation. The state of Kosovo and its democracy have been stolen by the political elites. The process of international recognition was stopped. The political rivalry went so far that former Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj (PDK) even blocked the activities related to international recognition, so that former Prime Minister Mustafa and LDK wouldn't get credit for eventual success. Serbia has taken proactive action to prevent new recognitions of Kosovo and has been quite successful in this.  

Election marked by three main political rivals 

The main race at the upcoming parliamentary election in Kosovo will take place between the three main political rivals: Isa Mustafa's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), Albin Kurti's “Vetëvendosje” Self-Determination Movement (LVV) and Kadri Veseli's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). Besides those main three rivals, Ramush Haradinaj with his Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) is trying to enter the race as the fourth competitor. 

By imposing illegitimate 100% customs tariffs on imports from Bosnia and Herzegovina and from Serbia Haradinaj severely violated the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) and  caused irreversible damage to Kosovo and its international relations. Disrespect of the international agreement opened the door to Kosovo's opponents who will dispute the ruling of the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the justification of Kosovo's independence and they will continue to prevent international recognitions. Kosovo's citizens have also suffered damage as they are deprived of the freedom of choice not having the possibility to buy and consume competitive goods. 

Haradinaj obviously wanted to score political points among a part of the electorate to the detriment of Kosovo. Ironically, despite the promising name of his Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, the country will see no bright future with Haradinaj’s party. 

Albin Kurti convincingly the favourite candidate for prime minister

The public opinion polls carried out in Kosovo have shown a strong downwards trend in PDK's popularity. Very small differences between LDK and LVV shown in pre-election surveys mean that the winner will be decided in the final part of the campaign. 

The situation in the political scene and the citizens' orientation go in favour of the Self-Determination Movement (LVV), which leads slightly before the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), while the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) are competing for the third place. The fifth player that may enter the Kosovo Parliament is the Nisma party.

The undecided voters are not in favour of the PDK and AAK coalitions. Especially the young generation has recognised refreshment in the political scene through political parties that have not yet participated in the government of Kosovo, such as LVV and its leader Albin Kurti. In 2017 it was also possible to form the coalition government around LVV and LDK, since those parties could provide 61 seats in the 120 member Kosovo Assembly. The problem is that one part of LDK's officials are in close connection with criminal structures in PDK and AAK and want to form coalition with them. This still represents a real risk that the votes given by Kosovo voters to LDK will actually represent the votes for PDK. 

Most undecided voters share the opinion that the incumbent coalition government (PDK-AAK-AKR-Nisma) should be punished for their unprincipled coalition and their connections with crime, corruption, nepotism, intimidation, threats, war crimes, liquidations and extortions. The incumbent government has left nothing but many empty promises and the damage to be paid by future generations of Kosovars. 

The key political actors appointed their prime minister candidates before the election campaign started. Albin Kurti (LVV) is convincingly the favourite prime minister candidate, followed by Vjosa Osmani (LDK), Kadri Veseli (PDK), Ramush Haradinaj (AAK) and  Fatmir Limaj (Nisma).

Analysts have noted a synchronised campaign and attacks by political-criminal structures in Kosovo and attempts to discredit the social-democratic LVV movement and Albin Kurti. They are obviously aware that after the election the moment of truth will arrive, which means that Kosovo will have to go through the process of decriminalisation of politics in order to stop the emigration trends, ensure better prospects to its citizens through economic development, implement the rule of law and assert Kosovo's position at the regional and international levels. 

Analysts believe that Kosovo needs a new political leadership which is not burdened with past encumbrances and that changes in the government would be a healthy motivation for the young Kosovo democracy. PDK, AAK, and before them LDK are – besides having proven to be disastrous leaders – all burdened with crime, corruption, nepotism, illegal accumulation of wealth, war crimes, liquidations, and certain individuals even with unresolved murders that may have been politically motivated. The Self-Determination Movement could bring some positive changes if it takes over the government, bearing in mind that Kosovo is facing an important turning point and needs changes on the political scene. The LVV Self-Determination Movement has never been in the Kosovo government. 

When the Constitutional Court suspends democracy?

The Kosovo election law is absurd: it prevents the formation of coalitions after elections while it enables pre-election coalitions. This is an anomaly that has to be remedied.  

In one of its decisions (KO 103/14 of 1 July 2014) the Constitutional Court of Kosovo stated that the formation of post-election coalitions was unconstitutional, while in Albania it is unconstitutional to form pre-election coalitions. In both cases the democracy was suspended by the Constitutional Court, since pre- and post-election coalitions represent an integral part of any developed democracy.

Analysts believe that the Constitutional Court's decision should be suspended since it limits and prevents the democratic principle of forming pre- and post-election coalitions which is an integral part of any political and election process in developed Western democracies.

The citizens as Veseli's hostages want political changes

The IFIMES International Institute believes that the forthcoming early parliamentary election will be the most uncertain parliamentary election since the Republic of Kosovo proclaimed independence. The main task of the new government will be to stop the negative trends in almost every segment of the Kosovo society. The incumbent coalition government (PDK-AAK-AKR-Nisma) has proven to be incapable of resolving the challenges that Kosovo is facing. After 19 years in power they are now characterised by crime, corruption and nepotism. Two billion euros of EU taxpayers' money have disappeared or been inappropriately wasted in Kosovo. Under those circumstances it is not the citizens of Kosovo who should be punished by the EU visa regime. Instead the  EU should apply the visa regime only to certain political officials. Kosovo urgently needs to carry out decriminalisation of politics. Kosovo Albanians suspected of crime, corruption and war crimes should be prosecuted at court. The political party scene in Kosovo is controlled by PDK and by the SHiK (para)intelligence service. Kosovo Albanians cannot ensure a better future for themselves unless they deal with the past. PDK and AAK failed the test and destroyed all the hope of Kosovo citizens for a better future. 

That is why the forthcoming early election will be the most important election since the country proclaimed its independence. The young generation wants changes. Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe –  every second citizen is younger than 30. In the electoral roll for the upcoming early parliamentary election there are 111,733 young voters who will have the opportunity to vote for the first time.

Analysts believe that the rule of law in Kosovo is not functioning and that there are no justice, no penalties and no efficient courts. This means that the state is weakening and that the citizens no longer trust its institutions. The situation is further aggravated by the non-functioning of Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor's Office (KSC-SPO) which still do not operate at full capacity. Kosovo citizens live in fear as hostages to the political-criminal structures and (para)military and (para)intelligence units that are symbolised by Kadri Veseli (PDK). It is therefore inevitable that Veseli will eventually be prosecuted by KSC-SPO Chambers.

As regards the economic issues most undecided voters believe that privatisation has failed completely, being used as a tool for achieving personal profit. In some cases privatisation was unnecessary in the first place, while in other cases it was carried out in a non-transparent, suspicious and incorrect manner that is often brought in connection with crime.

Merkel-Vučić meeting in New York

The long-lasting complex situation in Kosovo has led to mutual confrontations between Kosovar politicians in their preparations for the next election. The European Union has lost control over the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. It needs a new approach and a new idea on how to lead that dialogue, as well as a new mediator who would bring the dialogue into the final phase of signing the legally binding agreement. 

On the other hand Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) has further strengthened his position as the key leader in the region. This was confirmed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) who asked to meet Vučić on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York. Merkel did not meet any other leader from the region. It is actually Merkel and Vučić who take most credit for having launched the Berlin Process in August 2014, which has proven to be the most important initiative for strengthening regional cooperation between Western Balkan states and their European integration. This will contribute to accelerating positive processes, economic revival and cooperation in the region. 

While Kosovo has been pushed into isolation, Serbia's President Vučić will host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (AKP) and members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 7 and 8 October 2019 when they will lay the foundation stone for the start of the construction of Belgrade-Sarajevo motorway, the largest infrastructure project in the region. 

On 9 and 10 October 2019 Vučić is also hosting Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama (PS) and Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev (SDSM) in Novi Sad, Serbia. Kosovo's representatives will not take part in any of those meetings. Vučić is intensively working on rebranding Serbia and its role in regional and international relations.

Thanks to his Vučić Serbia has become the epicentre of activities in the region and the key factor of peace and stability. Common economic development and formation of the “small Schengen” area are priority tasks of regional cooperation. Individually, the small states cannot attract global investors and ensure sustainable economic growth and development. Therefore the abolishment of borders and customs in the region would enable Western Balkans states to harmonise their infrastructure policies and join forces in the process of their economic revival. 

The recent opening of the Preševo-Tabanovce integrated border crossing between Serbia and North Macedonia represented an important step in that direction. The announced opening of the Kafasan/Qafë Thanë integrated border crossing between North Macedonia and Albania will be the continuation of those activities leading to the formation of a joint customs union, which is one of the goals of the Berlin Process. 

Analysts believe that the forthcoming election in Kosovo will be marked again by the confrontations between a part of Serbian opposition and Albanian political parties on one side and the Serb List (SL), which is led by Igor Simić and supported by Serbian President Vučić, on the other side. It is actually through the Serb List – as the election favourite among the Serbian community in Kosovo - that they will try to confront Serbian President Vučić. That is why in the campaign run-off we may expect increased tensions and possibly even the use of violence directed against the Serb List. It is of vital importance to conclude the Belgrade-Pristina dialog by signing the legally binding agreement, to abolish the borders and eliminate barriers in the region and to start intensive cooperation, which will reflect the true European values.

International Institute for Middle-East 
and Balkan Studies - (IFIMES)
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