Kosovo Voters Look To Put Europe’s Newest Country Back On Track

Voters in Kosovo are voting in an early parliamentary election, looking to end months of political instability and elect a government that will jumpstart job growth while solidifying the country’s path toward European integration.

The June 11 election, the third vote since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, was triggered about a year earlier than scheduled after Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s government lost a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Many of Kosovo’s 1.8 million inhabitants blame politicians from all sides for a stubbornly high unemployment rate that hovers around one-third of the workforce despite solid economic expansion of about 4 percent annually in one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Other key priorities the next government faces include establishing better control over privatization and creating a functioning war crimes court and prosecution office, which would start the process of sidelining wartime leaders from political and public life.

Yet the biggest issues surrounding the vote are a pair of agreements signed in 2015: one setting the border with Montenegro and another with Serbia that increases powers held by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.

Those issues have helped stalled reforms in the legislature and angered the electorate in a country where about one-third of the population is under the age of 15.

“For more than a year we didn’t have a functional government, and now I don’t trust them,” said Islam Fehmiu, a retiree from the capital, Pristina.

“Parliament couldn’t finish its sessions. I have very low hopes. The preelection coalitions are looking out only for their own interests and I absolutely think they won’t solve ongoing issues such as border demarcation with Montenegro,” Fehmiu added.

After casting her ballot in Pristina, the president of the Central Election Commission, Valdete Daka, called on citizens to use their right to vote and urged political party monitors “not to misuse their position.”

“We have to show the world that we know how to organize the elections,” Daka said

Nearly 30,000 domestic and international observes will overlook the voting process. Daka said the OSCE Mission in Kosovo had dispatched around 200 adviseors to polling stations in the Serb-dominated northern part of Kosovo. A total of 19 parties, five coalitions, and backers of two citizens’ initiatives are running in the election. Of the 120 seats in parliament, 20 are reserved for ethnic Serbs and other minorities.

Opinion polls show two coalitions — the Self-Determination Movement and a coalition built around the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) — are likely to top the polls, once again setting up potentially tricky talks on forming a government.

In 2014, a six-month stalemate between the two largest parties ensued until they formed a grand coalition that was considered a failure as the country stagnated.

With the number of undecided voters at about 30 percent, last-minute decisions by those voters and from the country’s diaspora will have the major say in determining the next government for the four-year term.

“Hopefully, they can form a government faster than the last time and they can work at addressing all the issues which are relevant for a European perspective and to get a credible track record on this,” EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn told RFE/RL in Brussels.

While there have been some rumblings of electoral dirty tricks, the campaign has been devoid of any major scandals or incidents, in a marked departure from other recent elections in the Balkans.

When Mustafa’s government collapsed, concern swelled that the kind of political upheaval that dotted the region — fueled by nationalist sentiment that sparked fears of an outbreak of violence — would engulf Kosovo, which as Europe’s newest country has struggled to establish a stable democracy.

Those tensions were brought up again on June 9 when former Finance Minister Avdullah Hoti, a candidate for prime minister from the LDK, told The Telegraph newspaper that if the country’s relationship with its allies deteriorates, “it will be much easier for those who wish to destabilize the region.”

“The Western Balkans has been compared in the past, not inaccurately, to a powder keg — a spark anywhere could harm us all,” said Hoti, a 42-year-old economist who has been nicknamed “Kosovo’s Macron.”

Kosovo broke with Serbia in 1999 after NATO bombing halted a campaign of ethnic cleansing directed against ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces trying to stamp out a two-year insurgency. Its independence has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including Western powers, but not by Serbia, Russia, or several EU members including Spain.


Source: Radio Free Europe