This is a guest post by Ramadan (Dani) Ilazi, PhD candidate at Dublin City University
On June 11, Kosovo held early-parliamentary elections, the third since the country declared its independence in 2008. The snap elections were triggered by a vote on a motion of no-confidence in early May against the government of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, who is also the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). The motion was presented by three opposition parties, Nisma (Initiative), AAK (Alliance for Future of Kosovo) and VV-Vetëvendosje (Self-determination) and was supported by the governing coalition partner, PDK (Democratic Party of Kosovo). The failure to pass the Agreement on Border Demarcation with Montenegro, which is also a key condition for visa liberalization for citizens of Kosovo for the EU Schengen zone, is widely attributed as the main cause for the fall of the government. The break-up of the PDK/LDK coalition and support for the motion was justified by Prime Minister Mustafa’s inability to progress on key issues in the European integration process. PM Mustafa and the LDK blasted the PDK’s move as a political manoeuvre designed to create early elections.
Going into the elections, two major coalitions were formed: the first was between the LDK, the AKR (Alliance for New Kosovo) and the newly established political party ALTERNATIVA. The second was between PDK, AAK and Nisma. There were three major candidates for Prime Minister and the elections were largely focused on their CVs and programs: the candidate from the PDK coalition was Mr. Ramush Haradinaj, the candidate from the LDK coalition was Mr. Avdullah Hoti (out-going Minister of Finance), and the candidate from Vetëvendosje was Mr. Albin Kurti. Mr. Haradinaj and Mr. Hoti belong to the centre-right political parties while Mr. Kurti’s was the only candidate from the left party.
Kosovo uses a proportional system. The whole country serves as a one electoral district and there is a 5% threshold. Kosovo also applies an open-list policy, meaning that citizens vote for a party or a coalition of parties and also get to vote for five candidates from the party or coalition list. Kosovo’s Parliament has 120 seats, of which 20 seats are guaranteed for minority communities, while the remainder are distributed according to the percentage of votes the political party or the coalition has won in the elections. According to article 84 of the Constitution of Kosovo, the President of the Republic announces elections for the Parliament of Kosovo and convenes its first meeting. In the election of the government, according to article 95 of the Constitution, the President of the Republic proposes to the Parliament 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 […] If the proposed composition of the Government does not receive the necessary majority of votes, the President of the Republic of Kosovo appoints another candidate with the same procedure within ten (10) days”
The organization of elections received praise from local and international monitors as free and fair and without any significant incident. Preliminary results from the Kosovo Central Election Commission (CEC) show that the voter turnout was over 40%, and the support for parties/coalitions was as follows: 34% voted for the PDK coalition (around 39 seats); 27% for Vetëvendosje (around 31 seats); and 26% for the LDK (around 30 seats).
These results showed that forming a government will be a challenge. The PDK has the right to try to form the government first. VV and LDK have, until now, fiercely opposed any idea of a coalition with PDK. The PDK-coalition could potentially form a coalition with the 20 members of the minority communities, but what complicates matters is that the Serbian President Vucic has openly spoke against Mr. Haradinaj becoming a Prime Minister, which means the Serbian members of the Kosovo Parliament would most likely refuse to enter into coalition with PDK-coalition provided that Mr. Haradinaj is the candidate for PM. Another potential scenario is that the second party gets a try at forming the government, which would be VV.
Context: winner takes it all
To better understand the potential that the situation holds for institutional crisis or political stalemate, the 2014 election context is useful. On 7 May 2014 the Kosovo Parliament decided to dissolve itself and the next day the President of Kosovo decreed the early elections in June. The results showed PDK was the winner of the elections, with 30% of the votes, LDK was ranked second with 25%. A day after the election results were announced, other parties from Kosovo political landscape created a post-election coalition, called VLAN, which represented about 55% of the votes and claimed the right to form the government. VLAN refused to discuss any cooperation with PDK.
This situation created a political stalemate that lasted for six months during which time no new government could be formed. It took two decisions from the Constitutional Court of Kosovo to end the gridlock and the one dealing with the competencies of the President is of particular relevance in the context of this article and the blog. According to this decision (Case No. K0103/14) the President “proposes to the Assembly the candidate for Prime Minister nominated by the political party or coalition that has the highest number of seats in the Assembly” and “The President of the Republic does not have the discretion to refuse the appointment of the proposed candidate for Prime Minister”. However “In the event that the proposed candidate for Prime Minister does not receive the necessary votes, the President of the Republic, at his/her discretion […] appoints another candidate for Prime Minister after consultation with the parties or coalitions […].” This decision gives the President a potentially key role to play in government formation and this role may be important in the formation of the next government.
The Constitutional Court subsequently ruled that the winning party or coalition has the exclusive rights to propose the candidate for the Speaker of Parliament. Following the 2014 elections, these decisions made the implementation of the VLAN coalition impossible and the LDK went on to form a coalition with the PDK, amid high tensions and fierce opposition, including from within the LDK members of Parliament, some of whom refused to vote for their own leader as Prime Minister.
The incoming government faces some very unpopular decisions, including the ratification of the agreement for the border demarcation with Montenegro (AAK, VV and Nisma strongly opposed this agreement), the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities, which comes from the Brussels dialogue for normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia (VV strongly opposes this), and the beginning of the work and potential arrests from the Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office which can produce a situation that will be very difficult to manage for the next government and could could create instability. More importantly, Kosovo citizens are losing patience and are increasingly becoming frustrated with the lack of results especially when it comes to the European integration process as they remain the only citizens in the Balkans without visa liberalization with the EU Schengen zone. With this in mind the next government needs solid support in the Parliament and credibility and legitimacy in the public’s eyes.
In terms of procedure, political parties are awaiting the certification of results by the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the publication of the list of the next members of Parliament. Following this, the President will convene the first meeting of the Parliament and from that moment on a time timetable for government formation begins. Another election cannot be ruled out.
The election created a political earthquake that will change the political landscape for some time to come. The main change was the increase in support for the Vetëvendosje party, which rose from 13.59% of votes in 2014 elections to 27%. Vetëvendosje is a controversial political party, promoting the unification of Kosovo with Albania and using teargas in the Parliament as a method of protest. But, support for VV, especially from young voters, is a demand for a change and a sign of protest against the political establishment. So, unlike the onion of DW’s Adelheid Feilcke, that relies heavily on Kosovo stereotypes and argues that that nationalism won in the snap election, I believe that the results generally, as well as the votes for individuals candidates, show the potential of Kosovo’s democracy. So the winner, if we need to name one, is civil society.