PRISTINA – On Sunday Kosovo will hold snap parliamentary election, which takes place less than 18 months after the citizens of Kosovo voted last time. The election on 14 February will be the sixth in 14 years. Observers in Kosovo concede that ten days of election campaigning is not enough for parties to convey complex plans to voters, and for voters to get the message.
Snap elections were triggered in December 2020, when the Constitutional Court ruled that the coalition government led by Avdullah Hoti’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was illegitimate, because it had been voted into office with the help of an invalid vote cast by an MP with a criminal conviction in the last three years.
The vote of lawmaker Etem Arifi was one of 61 for Hoti’s government, which was elected by the minimum number in the 120-seat parliament.
The complaint before the court was brought by opposition party Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination), which claimed that Arifi’s vote was unconstitutional because he had been sentenced to prison for one year and three months on a fraud charge.
According to the constitution, a deputy’s mandate comes to an end when the deputy is convicted and sentenced to one or more years in prison by a final court decision. Arifi was sentenced to prison in September 2019.
According to Radio Free Europe (RFE) the Central Election Commission claimed it was not informed of Arifi’s sentence before the general election in October last year, which Vetëvendosje won.
Despite the ban, Kurti is playing an active role in the campaign
If opinion polls are to be believed, Vetëvendosje will take between 40 and 50 per cent of the vote, which could potentially see the party being able to form a government without a coalition partner. This represents a massive surge in popularity for a party which won 26.2 per cent in 2019’s election.
The Democratic League of Kosovo is projected to win 15-20 per cent of the vote, while the last of Kosovo’s big three — the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) — is polling at between 16 and 22 per cent.
Kurti himself has been banned from running as an MP because of the same Constitutional Court verdict that toppled Hoti’s government. A court gave Kurti and his former justice minister from Vetevendosje, Albulena Haxhiu, suspended prison sentences in January 2018 for setting off tear gas in parliament.
They had been protesting against a border demarcation with neighbouring Montenegro and against plans to establish an autonomous association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo. The court verdict became final only in October 2018 – less than three years ago.
Most analysts believe that tough talk on corruption is behind the recent surge in Vetëvendosje’s popularity. At campaign rallies, Kurti has taken a hard-line approach to the country’s endemic corruption (according to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index report, Kosovo is ranked 103rd out of 180 countries globally) criticising what he calls the “old guard” as “oligarchs and cartel leaders”.
“The corruption has been huge, but it is very concentrated at the top, we believe we can beat it,” Kurti said at a recent campaign event.
He also pointed out that the lack of rule of law in the country is scaring potential foreign investors away, negatively impacting the country’s job market.
One of the first tasks of the new parliament will be to elect a president
In Kosovo, presidents are chosen by the Parliament, not through a direct vote. One of the first tasks of the new parliament will be to elect a new president.
It is expected that the Vetëvendosje and LDK-dominated parliament will confirm Kurti’s informal running partner, Vjosa Osmani, once of the LDK, as president.
Osmani has been serving as Kosovo’s acting president since Hashim Thaçi resigned in November of last year after he was indicted on war crimes charges by the Specialist Chambers in The Hague.
Like Kurti, Osmani has highlighted corruption and state capture as the main problems facing Kosovo.
“It is not that we lack institutions to fight corruption, it is political will that is missing. Once high-level politicians are corrupt, it seeps down through the system,” she said.
How visible is the campaign of Serbian and other minority parties?
The Serbian political subjects are mainly focused on the Serb-majority municipalities, and their campaign is not as visible in the other municipalities, KoSSev reported.
The information from the field observers states that the Serb political subjects have only made a few small electoral activities in the Serb-majority municipalities, but nothing big.
Other minority parties are almost invisible as they only represent less than 4% of Kosovo’s population and they usually campaign in their communities. One exception would be the Turkish parties who have a significant number of supporters in Prizren and Pristina.
The biggest Serb political subject Srpska Lista (Serbian List) has almost absorbed all of the other small Serb political subjects, and also has gained the majority votes of the Serb community in Kosovo, therefore they are self-certain that they will gain enough votes to gain extra seats in the Kosovo Parliament, and thus not working too much on their election campaign.