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.