Category Archives: Kosovo

Gëzim Visoka – Kosovo’s President Elected During A Political Crisis

This is a guest post by Dr Gëzim Visoka, Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies at Dublin City University, Ireland

Last week the Assembly of Kosovo elected Hashim Thaçi as new president of Kosovo despite fierce resistance from opposition parties both within and outside the parliament. Thaçi was elected at the third round, securing 71 of the 61 votes that he needed to be become Kosovo’s fifth president. Kosovo is a parliamentary democracy, but the president enjoys a wide range of important powers. Thaçi is Kosovo’s leading politician who negotiated the end of conflict in 1998, declared independence in 2008, and served as prime minister between 2007 and 2014. While for some his election as Kosovo’s new president has entrenched the ongoing political crisis in the country, for others it has brought hopes for an eventual return of institutional normalcy.

In retrospect, Kosovo has had a troubled history with the election of presidents. During the UN’s administration of Kosovo (1999-2008), Kosovo’s President was mainly a ceremonial position as the Special Representative of the UN’s Secretary-General was the highest authority in Kosovo. Between 2001 and 2007, Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of pacifist movement, enjoyed a large electoral support, though he secured fewer votes than Thaçi when he became Kosovo’s first president over a decade ago. Following the coordinated declaration of independence in 2008, Fatmir Sejdiu of LDK (Democratic League of Kosovo) did not finish his presidential term due to a constitutional conflict in holding simultaneously the office of the president and the leadership of the party. After national elections in 2011, Behgjet Pacolli from AKR (Alliance for a New Kosovo) was immediately sacked from the office due to constitutional irregularities during his election in parliament. Immediately afterwards, Atifete Jahjaga was imposed by the United States as a consensual president in an attempt to break away from the political conflict of main political parties originating from the peaceful and armed resistance.

While Thaçi is unlikely to suffer from such constitutional anomalies, his election takes place in the midst of a political crisis, which is threatening to undermine domestic peace and all international investments in Kosovo. Opposition parties are furious with an internationally-brokered coalition that took place in 2014 between Thaçi’s PDK (Democratic Party of Kosovo) and Lëvizja Vetëvendosje (Movement for Self-determination), Kosovo’s main opposition party. The international community has called for dialogue and has strongly condemned the violent acts of opposition parties, while it has pressed the government to continue the dialogue with Serbia and undertaken comprehensive reforms as part of EU accession bid.

Constitutionally, the function of the president is to serve as a unitary figure between the different political groups. However, under the current circumstances, it is difficult to predict if the election of new president will resolve the on-going political crisis. Kosovo is going through an unprecedented political crisis. Hopes for the return of normalcy lie with the maturity of the political elite and end of polarising language. Hopes also lie with the people of Kosovo, who should not endorse radical, violent political factions, but instead should promote political change through democratic processes.

Dr Gëzim Visoka is a Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies at Dublin City University, Ireland. His forthcoming book ‘Peace Figuration after International Intervention: Intentions, Events and Consequences of Liberal Peacebuilding’ will be published with Routledge in June 2016. Dr Visoka’s work on Kosovo, peacebuilding, and international governance of post-conflict societies is available here: wwwgezimvisoka.com.

Violeta Hyseni Kelmendi – A new President for Kosovo

This is a guest post by Violeta Hyseni Kelmendi. This article was originally published on Osservatorio Balcani e Caucus.

The Kosovo President, Atifete Jahjaga, ends her mandate in early April, but who is going to succeed her?

In fact, the only candidate who openly stated his claim to become President in 2016 is the leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), Hashim Thaçi, who currently holds the position of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Thaçi expects to become head of state under the terms of the coalition deal signed in December 2014 between his party and its former fierce opponent – the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). The coalition between the two hostile parties ended a six months long damaging political deadlock, giving the LDK leader, Isa Mustafa, the position of Prime Minister, while Thaçi would become President in 2016 when Jahjaga’s term ends.

The Kosovo President is elected by the parliament in secret ballot by a two thirds majority of all deputies of the Assembly. If a two thirds (2/3) majority is not reached by any candidate in the first two ballots, a third ballot takes place and the candidate who receives a simple majority in the Assembly is elected. The vote in the Assembly should take place in early March at the latest, or no later than a month before the end of the current President’s term of office.
A political analyst, Imer Mushkolaj, told OBC that despite the deal between the coalition partners, Hashim Thaçi cannot be sure that he would be elected as President. “Perhaps there will be attempts to modify the deal, so that Thaçi returns in the position of Prime Minister, while Isa Mustafa would try to become President. It is a process with many dilemmas and not easy at all,” Mushkolaj noted. According to him the issue of the President is associated with the establishment of the Special Court which will judge the Kosovo Liberation Army’s alleged war crimes. “If in the list of potential people who could be tried by the Special Court there’s also the name of Hashim Thaçi (the former KLA leader) we could face a new situation,” warns Mushkolaj.

In addition, Thaçi’s election as President could be challenged also by some members of the coalition parties. Not all of LDK deputies are willing to vote him into this position, while also the other coalition partner, the Serbian List (Srpska Lista), may condition the vote with the establishment of the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities, which is fiercely opposed by the opposition parties.

If the electoral process for President will be blocked due to these circumstances, it is likely that the current President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, may be re-elected, although so far she did not express any interest to run for the second term. Jahjaga doesn’t have political support for re-election but the international diplomats in Kosovo back her.

She is the first female President of Kosovo, the youngest female head of state and the first non-partisan candidate to be elected in this position. Five years ago, following a political crisis which left Kosovo without a President, the then US ambassador to Kosovo Christopher Dell reached an agreement with main political leaders to nominate Jahjaga as the consensual candidate. At that time she was a police commander, but most Kosovars hadn’t heard of her.
Throughout her five years term Jahjaga managed to present Kosovo in the international arena better than previous Presidents. Hence she enjoys unprecedented international support and in 2014 received the award for Leadership in Public Service from the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. In April she is ending her term without any scandal, or accusations of corruption practices or nepotism. Despite this, her leadership in Kosovo was wan and unrepresentative, so she was highly criticised.

A few days ago, Jahjaga’s portrait was painted on a wall, showing her in a rather awkward outfit and wearing a police cap. This graffiti provoked a storm of reactions within institutions, women’s organizations and social media, who estimated that this is a sexist graffiti and as such exceeds freedom of expression. Other graffiti portraying men politicians remained under the shadow of Jahjaga’s one.

Another political commentator, Besa Luzha, says that the way the President was elected – being an unknown figure with no political background – followed her all the time. “She tried to represent the unity of the people of Kosovo, but she didn’t succeed. Her performance as a leader left much to be desired. But at least internationally she represented Kosovo’s image much better than her predecessors. I don’t think that she was prejudged due to gender, but due to a very weak performance beside the support she received from internationals,” added Luzha.

According to her, neither Hashim Thaçi nor Atifete Jahjaga are the best candidates to present the unity of the people. “I think Kosovo has many good candidates who could be nominated. I think that the President should be elected directly. He or she should be a brave, capable and distinguished candidate, who would make us all feel proud,” concluded Besa Luzha.

But the other political analyst, Imer Mushkolaj, has a different opinion. He says that Kosovo would not be damaged should President Jahjaga decide to run for the second term. “Despite the lack of political support, she has shown a solid performance during her mandate. Criticized, attacked and often underestimated, yet she managed to meet her constitutional obligations,” pointed out Mushkolaj.

Until now opposition parties didn’t express their interest to nominate a candidate for the presidency. They are struggling vigorously to prevent establishing the Association of Serb Majority Municipalities which will have wide-ranging power over local economy, health, education, urban and rural planning, and the demarcation agreement between Kosovo and Montenegro, claiming that if implemented, Kosovo would lose part of its territory. The political situation between the ruling coalition and the opposition block has escalated so much, that lately some media reported that an international negotiator could come to Kosovo to mediate the dialogue between parties and to unlock the political processes.

Kosovo – Still awaiting a new government and presidential choice(s) for the prime minister post

Three months after a snap parliamentary election was held in Kosovo on 8 June, the country’s parliament has not started to work and a new government is yet to be formed. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has been called upon twice to rule over who should be nominated as prime minister and what is the correct procedure for the election of the speaker of parliament.

A previous post explained how government formation became a difficult constitutional matter in the aftermath of the general election.

Atifete Jahjaga, the non-partisan head of state elected by the parliament with cross-party support in 2011, had to decide whether to nominate outgoing prime minister Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which topped the polls and held 37 seats in the 120-seat parliament; or to nominate Ramush Haradinaj of the opposition Alliance for Future of Kosovo (AAK), which signed a post-election coalition agreement with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the newly established Initiative for Kosovo (Nisma), and claimed to have secured the support of the parliamentary majority. She asked the Constitutional Court to clarify the president’s role in government formation on 19 June.

The Court decided in favour of the PDK nomination. In its 1 July ruling, the Court argued that the president should nominate for prime minister the candidate proposed by the political party or coalition that was registered in the general election under one name and obtained the highest number of seats in the assembly. Thus, the Court specifically ruled out the possibility of nominating as prime minister a candidate put forward by a post-election coalition and opened the way for Hashim Thaci’s third appointment as prime minister.

In the meantime, the battle between the ruling PDK and the anti-Thaci coalition moved on to the election of the speaker of parliament. Under Article 67.2, “the president of the assembly is proposed by the largest parliamentary group and is elected by a majority vote of all deputies”. While PDK holds 37 seats in the new parliament, the opposition LDK, AAK and Incentive for Kosovo control 47 seats. To ensure that they will be able to propose the speaker of the parliament, the three parties formed a joint parliamentary group on 11 July. However, PDK still argued that the right to nominate the speaker of parliament belongs to the party that won the most votes in the election.

In accordance with Article 66.3, President Jahjaga decided that the parliament should convene on July 17. Following the parliament’s constitutive session and the election of the new leadership, she was also supposed to appoint the new prime minister.

However, things took a different turn. The chair of the first parliamentary session held on 17 July refused to recognize the LDK-AAK-NISMA group. The argument was that parliamentary groups could only be formed after the election of the president and deputy presidents of the assembly. As a result, the opposition parties boycotted the session and left the room when PDK’s proposal for the speaker of parliament was put to vote. In the absence of quorum, the meeting was suspended. However, the opposition returned later on and elected Ifa Mustafa, LDK’s proposal, as President of the Assembly in the absence of PDK. Naturally, PDK contested the election and asked the Court to rule on its constitutionality. President Jahjaga also decided to wait for the Court’s verdict before appointing the prime minister.

In its 22 August ruling, the Court found the election of speaker unconstitutional both procedurally and substantially. On the first ground, the meeting called after the adjournment of the Constitutive Session due to lack of quorum was declared illegal. On the second ground, the Court referred to its previous decision regarding the parties entitled to be consulted first about the appointment of the prime minister. The final ruling was that the Constitution prioritizes election results as a criterion for recognizing the largest party or coalition in the new assembly with the right to nominate the next speaker of parliament.

The constitutive session of the Assembly will be resumed on 12 September. Both the opposition and the ruling PDK are claiming the post of the speaker of parliament and are hoping to form the government. The opposition parties have announced that Self-determination will vote against the PDK nominees and are expecting to elect Ifa Mustafa as president of the assembly once again. The ruling party is counting on the support of the ethnic minorities, who do not want new elections to be called.

President Jahjaga is likely to play an important role in this context. Provided that all four opposition parties vote against Thaci, whom the president is expected to appoint as prime minister first, she will need to make a second nomination within ten days. The Constitution is however silent on whether the president should appoint a second candidate from the same party or not. Nevertheless, if the government fails to win majority support for the second time, the president needs to announce new elections, which should be held within the next forty days (under Article 95.4). In its first ruling, the Constitutional Court acknowledged that the president has full discretion in making the second nomination. In a more peculiar fashion, though, the Court also underlined that the president’s main responsibility is to find a solution that avoids new elections.

Kosovo – President in post-election government formation controversy

Kosovo held a snap parliamentary election on 8 June. The results, though yet to be confirmed, were not dissimilar to the 2010 parliamentary election. The ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) won 30.7% (-1.4%), the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo won 25.8% (+1.1%), Self-determination won 13.5% (+0.8%), the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo won 9.6% (-1.4%), and a new party, the Civic Initiative for Kosovo, won 5.24%. These were the only parties that crossed the 5% threshold.

Given these results, there was a general expectation that the ruling prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, who heads the largest party in parliament would return at the head of a coalition that was dominated by his own DPK with the support of smaller parties.

However, events may turn out differently. Even though there was no united opposition to the DPK at the election, Balkan Insight is now reporting that the Democratic League of Kosovo, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, and the Civic Initiative for Kosovo are planning to form an alternative coalition.

The problem is that the proposed coalition may not enjoy an absolute majority in parliament. The nationalist Self-determination party is opposed to PM Thaçi and is not currently part of the coalition negotiations, though it may tacitly support an anti-Thaçi coalition. The situation is made more difficult because the parliament comprises 120 seats, 20 of which are reserved for minorities. Their support is likely to be crucial for the formation of any government, but it is not clear who they will go with.

The result has caused a constitutional problem. Art 95.1 states: “After elections, the President of the Republic of Kosovo proposes to the Assembly a candidate for Prime Minister, in consultation with the political party or coalition that has won the majority in the Assembly necessary to establish the Government.” So, who should the president call upon to form a government? Should it be PM Thaçi, who heads the largest party but who does not have any major coalition partners with which to form a majority government, or the PM candidate from the current opposition, Ramush Haradinaj, who heads the fourth largest party and who may not enjoy the support of an absolute majority in the new parliament, but who is the candidate from the coalition that stands perhaps the best chance of forming a government?

Basically, as in the recent case in Madagascar, there is no right answer to this question. The president has to make a choice as to how the constitution should be interpreted. The current incumbent is an independent, Atifete Jahjaga. She is under pressure from both sides to acquiesce to their demands. How she decides and how the parties react will be a stern test of democracy in the new country.