Kosovo Election: A Crisis "Déjà Vu"

The third parliamentary election, which was also the third “snap” election since the proclamation of independence in 2008, did not generally bring Kosovo anything new in relation to the previous one in 2014 – at least with regard to the results needed for forming a new and stable government. For the less well-informed reader, the simplest explanation for the outcome of the vote held on 11 June would be to use the title of a popular feature film from former Yugoslavia: Već viđeno (“Déjà vu”). The coalition comprising political parties with wartime credentials (the so-called “war wing”), which is led by the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), won the most votes, about 33 per cent, but that was not nearly enough to form a government on its own. Second place was taken by the Vetëvendosje! (“Self-Determination!”) Movement with about 27 per cent, while the coalition of the centre right, led by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), found itself in third place with some 25 per cent of the vote.

The PDK-led coalition was the winner, but it was a pyrrhic victory, because this coalition cannot assume power without the votes of those parties which ranked second and third in the results table. For now, both Self-Determination and the LDK have categorically refused to even think about forming a government with the “war wing”. On the other hand, they could easily form a coalition independently, because they have the requisite majority for that and do not even need the votes of the minority parties on which the PDK is heavily reliant. But, in order to form a government, Self-Determination and the LDK have to be given a mandate by Hashim Thaçi, president of Kosovo. Thaçi is, in fact, the founder of the PDK, and his heart (and also his political destiny) is inseparably linked to his political cradle, although he officially withdrew from the position of party president when he was elected president of Kosovo.

And this is what makes the situation after this latest snap election seem “déjà vu”, almost identical to that of 2014. So complicated is it that there is already an opinion prevailing that no solution can be found and that these results can with certainty lead only to a new snap parliamentary election.

Unusual coalitions

The recent election will also be remembered for some unusual coalitions. The most unusual of these was the one which brought together under one flag those political parties of which the founders were the most prominent former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK/KLA). This bloc, headed by the PDK, also comprises the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) led by Ramush Haradinaj, who was nominated for prime minister, and the Initiative for Kosovo (NISMA) led by Fatmir Limaj. For the first time in the history of parliamentary elections from the end of the war in 1999, former KLA fighters united in the same political front. This was also an opportunity for the first national Albanian referendum, which would enable citizens to show what they thought about former wartime leaders as a political élite and the way they had governed post-war Kosovo. It will be shown later that this opportunity was used very well.

The uniting of three “war” parties into a joint coalition was a surprise to the public because it was well-known that Haradinaj’s AAK and Limaj’s NISMA did not have good relations with the PDK and its former chief, Hashim Thaçi.

This was why observers evaluated this coalition as an unnatural one, because it differed as much within itself as it differed with other participants in the election. It seems that, in this case, the main catalyst which helped them to forget previous enmities was the prospect of government.

The coalition headed by the LDK was not as heterogeneous as the PDK’s, but it was not characterised by any special political closeness between its members either. The LDK entered into a pre-election coalition with the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) of Behgjet Pacolli, a construction magnate worth several hundred million who is today considered the wealthiest Kosovar. The LDK’s other coalition partners were the Justice Movement (LD), which practices a modern version of Islam, and the newly-formed Alternativa Party.

The third member of the great election trio was the Self-Determination Movement, but not the one we have been used to seeing tipping over rubbish bins and lorries carrying Serbian goods, or chucking Molotov cocktails at the government building or tear-gas cans in parliament. It was more than obvious that this party – basically assessing that its time had come and that it needed to target undecided voters or those whom the PDK and LDJ had disappointed – had launched an internal evolution and a process of adapting to appeal to broader levels of citizens, and not just, as hitherto, to rebellious young people. This was obvious starting from a change in wardrobe – a transition from jeans and T-shirts to the fashionably-tailored suits of leader Albin Kurti – and also his appearance on the campaign trail accompanied by his wife, to its election manifesto in which promises in the social sphere were designed to attract the poor and unemployed (Kosovo’s most numerous social categories). The election results showed that Self-Determination was right. It took second place.

On the other hand, the first-placed winners, the PDK had, individually as a party, never fared worse since Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and had never won a lesser number of votes. The LDK did a little better but, for the first time in history, went from second to third place in number of votes won.

A pallid offer

If one were to draw up a league table of the least convincing candidates for prime minister during the campaign, top of it would be Ramush Haradinaj, with no competition. His public appearances, speeches and arguments sounded weak and pallid. Why? Because he was lacking his strongest weapon – the sharp criticism of the regime for which he was remembered as one of its leading opponents. We recall that his opposition to the ratification of the frontier agreement with Montenegro was fiercer than the resistance put up by Self-Determination. If during the campaign Haradinaj had really wished to put his boot with full force into someone for failures and abuses, it should have been his main coalition partner the PDK which is, to be honest, to the greatest extent responsible for the difficult situation in which Kosovo finds itself today. (This in no way lessens the responsibility of the LDK which, after the death of its founder Ibrahim Rugova, transformed itself from being the leading party into an appendage of the PDK and thus brought itself to the position where it could not be amnestied when the “day of reckoning” arrived.)

By entering into coalition with the PDK, General Haradinaj voluntarily accepted disarmament. He lost the “enemy” against whom he needed to demonstrate his capability to lead the country successfully. He fought the election battle without the support of his heaviest artillery. He tried more to inspire his soldiers with his name and former aureole than with the tactical support of the strongest weapon which could have guaranteed him victory. Thus, his campaign was generalized and badly articulated.

The LDK coalition candidate for prime minister, Avdulah Hoti, will also not be remembered for a fiery campaign. No surprise there, however. Hoti was the outgoing finance minister and a university professor who had entered politics by chance and been kept there by force of circumstances. As a candidate, he did not have the profile traditionally voted for in Kosovo. Nevertheless, he conducted his campaign in an honestly academic manner and, while he did not secure additional votes from undecided voters, he did not betray the core of voters who traditionally vote for the LDK, with or without Rugova at its head. If not for electoral success, Hoti will be remembered for a cleanly-done job in one of the most sensitive ministries: during his mandate, for the first time since independence, discipline was established in the state treasury and other public funds which could no longer be treated as someone else’s pocket into which anyone could dip a hand whenever and to whatever extent he wanted, without paying any bill.

The Self-Determination candidate for premier was Albin Kurti, founder of the movement, Kosovo’s former Che Guevara, a rebellious student leader and one of the best-known “prisoners of conscience” from the time of the Serbian reign of terror in Kosovo. Aware that his popularity had exceptionally increased because of the courage (not noted in others) with which he told Thaçi to his face everything everyone thought about his regime, as well as the fact that they were a serious opposition to him (even with tear-gas in Parliament), Self-Determination decided before the election to “set the ball down” and “civilize” itself in the struggle for power. For those with longer memories, it was very interesting to watch Kurti and his company who had, almost up to yesterday, been upending UNMIK jeeps or hurling globs of paint at members of the regime, running a campaign according to modern European PR rules, with a social-democratic platform and stimulating hope that everything would be better if they came to power in this now disappointed country. With the image of an uncorrupted leader, they targeted the electorate at its most sensitive point, promising to root out the evil of corruption which has wrapped round Kosovo and choked it like an octopus. In addition, they promised the provision of justice for all, introducing law and order in society, social care for the hardest hit categories and age-groups, as well as calling people to account for malfeasance, particularly the ruthless plunder of state-owned resources. The cherry on the cake was represented by the promise to nationalize what had been stolen. Success could not be avoided. They won second place, recorded the highest rate of growth in number of votes in percentage terms and, if one believes the unofficial individual results which are based on vote counts done by each party for itself and not for a coalition, they became the party with the largest number of votes in Kosovo.

The phenomenon of Self-Determination 

The “war coalition” headed by the PDK gained the most votes – nearly 240,000, which is 50,000 more than runner-up Self-Determination and 60,000 more than the coalition led by the LDK. Although the voting results for individual parties will not be officially published – because collective results are issued for each coalition, except for Self-Determination and other smaller parties which competed individually – on the basis of results issued by each party for itself, it turns out that AAK and NISMA preserved their core electoral support. If this is true, this means that the PDK gained only 100,000 votes which could, with all the reservations about individual party vote-counting, represent the biggest surprise of the 11 June election. For the sake of comparison, in the 2014 election, the PDK, in coalition with several smaller parties (which had no great weight in the electoral body and won a few tens of thousands of votes) gained about 222,000 votes. This could mean that, since 2014, the PDK has lost half its electoral support, or that on 11 June it got about as many votes as it had lost since 2014: about 100,000. This catastrophic individual PDK result in relation to its earlier results is also confirmed by the estimate that, of the 39 deputy mandates of its coalition, the PDK won 21 in this election, or 16 less than in 2014. The coalition headed by the LDK (thus, with two partners) gained about 180,000 votes. Based on the individual estimates of each party on the number of votes won, it is estimated that, since 2014, the LDK has lost between 10,000 and 15,000 voters, which is not such a big punishment for the “sin” it committed by “getting into bed” with the PDK after the previous election.

At any rate, Self-Determination can be considered the top individual winner of the recent election because it won a total of 190,000 votes, which was 20,000 more than it got in 2014, and it can count on some 30 deputies.

At this moment, it is hard to analyse the phenomenon of Self-Determination, particularly if one takes into account its political platform with its ingredients of national romanticism and support for the unification of Kosovo with Albania. To make the paradox greater, Self-Determination is, after Serbia, the biggest “opponent” of Kosovo’s independence, though not with the aim of its return under Belgrade administration, but with the idea of unifying it with Albania. For these reasons, one should not exclude the possibility that behind the success of Self-Determination lies so-called “indirect” voting, i.e. opting for this party not because of identification with its programme, but because of voting in protest against the party which has hitherto been in power and the way in which it has hitherto governed Kosovo. Likewise, a very important factor for attracting voters to Self-Determination could also be the political and moral purity of the young men and women of this movement. You can agree with them or not, they can get on your nerves because of their occasional anachronous (even revolutionary) thinking and acting, but you have to take your hat off to their moral purity, because they have not been “defiled” by affairs, scandals and corruptive malfeasances.

A result without results

Observers have already declared the outcome of the June election a “result without results”. No member of the “big three” can form a government on its own, but each of them can take a decisive part in forming one – though only in the form of a coalition with one of the other members of the trio. The coalition headed by the PDK deserves to be offered to form a new government because the Constitution clearly prescribes that that right falls to the party winning the largest number of votes at the first attempt. The question is whether Self-Determination and the LDK[1] are prepared to enter into such an adventure.

The PDK was the leading party in the two previous governments. Both times, it brought about the premature fall of the government and the calling of snap elections, and left its former coalition partners high and dry. As a result, no one has any further confidence in doing deals with it after the third vote of no-confidence in the government and the calling of the 11 June snap election. In the first place, the LDK is putting up firm resistance to a possible new coalition with the PDK because it paid a high price for hitherto providing a parliamentary majority for Thaçi’s party. The opposition’s general hostility towards the PDK has been strengthened by the explicitly anti-PDK policy demonstrated for years by Self-Determination, which could enter into a coalition with the PDK only if it decided to commit political suicide.

The LDK and Self-Determination are not particularly close, and an eventual coalition between them would only be possible firstly because they are unified by having the same “enemy” and the same animosity towards the PDK, and therefore both fervently wish to see Thaçi’s former party in opposition. Combined with the relations which currently prevail among the leading political groupings in Pristina, the recent election results are more favourable for Self-Determination and the LDK than to the PDK, and some observers have thus concluded that the former two are the “real” winners of the election, because the highest number of votes (and mandates) gained by the PDK coalition can serve it for nothing other than, without competition, to be the leading opposition force in the next parliament.

The PDK-led coalition, which unofficially won 39 deputy mandates, has the theoretical possibility of reaching the famous 61-vote majority in parliament and forming a government together with a further ten mandates from the Serb List and another ten which belong to non-Serb minorities, as well as those of several “turncoat” deputies from Self-Determination and the LDK – who might be “persuaded” to vote for Haradinaj as premier if they were promised ambassadorial posts or millions stolen from the public purse.

The Thaçi factor

The political crisis which, because of almost identical circumstances, followed the 2014 election, left behind a complete mess in which nothing at all was clear and nothing could serve as a formula for resolving the new situation. During the 2014 parliamentary crisis, the Constitutional Court produced a series of politically elaborated decisions and commentaries to form a legal basis by which the party and coalition with the highest number of votes in the election (i.e. the PDK, then and now) had an almost obligatory right to form a government, and not the party or coalition with a guaranteed parliamentary majority. The fact that the party with the highest number of votes does not have the highest number of deputy seats, was not then taken as a criterion for specifying whom should be given the mandate to form a government. Since the then Kosovo president, the feeble Atifete Jahjaga, did not have the courage on the basis of the discretionary right provided to her by the Constitution, and notwithstanding the nebulous standpoints of the Constitutional Court, to entrust the mandate to the combined opposition which had enough deputy mandates to form a government and despatch the PDK into opposition, the crisis threatened to block the entire system of state, opening the way to general chaos. Upon pressure from the West, the LDK left the opposition bloc and joined the side of the PDK, forming with it the new government.

Hypothetically, when the PDK-led coalition hands back the first prime-ministerial mandate because no one wants to share power with it, President Thaçi is obliged for a second (and last) time to specify a mandatory. As in 2014, now will come the decisive moment of denouement – or a new twist of the plot – after it is justifiably assumed that the first mandate, awarded to Haradinaj, will be returned if the PDK is not in a position to attract Self-Determination or the LDK to its side. The decision on the second mandatory is directly in the hands of Thaçi, who as the outgoing premier in the election of 2014 decisively backed the provocation of a chaotic situation in order to forestall the PDK’s departure from power. Can he, as the president of all Kosovars, now rise above political affinities and allow his party to go into opposition by offering the second-round mandate to the two main opposition parties, i.e. those who can implement it without problems and without having to kowtow to the Serb List (Belgrade) or bribe deputies from the opposing side? It is difficult to believe that, given Thaçi’s appetite for power which has made him the mightiest of today’s Kosovo politicians, but also given the shadow of the Special Court which has already, slowly but surely, come to looming above Kosovo for years, while never actually coming to life.

A decision that the government pass into the hands of his fiercest political opponents (Self-Determination) or the former political partners (the LDK) whom he betrayed and stabbed through the heart, would make Thaçi very vulnerable and in the long term extremely insecure, because Self-Determination sticks to its mantra-like insistence that someone (meaning Thaçi) has to be called to account for the degradation which independent Kosovo has undergone at a time when it should have flourished, for the terrible state of the economy, education, health, privatisation, public companies, and also the crime and corruption within state structures. If it finds itself in the position to effectively wield power, it would be difficult to expect Self-Determination to let go its best chance so far of taking aim at the politician whom it designates the main culprit for the deterioration of the country from independence to date.

How can Thaçi avoid awarding the mandate to an eventual coalition between Self-Determination and the LDK coalition? Very easily, because he enjoys the discretionary right that, after the first unsuccessful offer of a mandate to form a government, he can offer the mandate either to the same party or coalition which was not successful with it in the first round – in this case with a new mandatory instead of Haradinaj – or offer the mandate to someone else who can guarantee to have 61 or more deputies’ signatures for forming a coalition government.

Now guess whom Thaçi will offer the mandate to for forming the government.

Thanks to their successful “managing” of the parliamentary crisis after the 2014 election, the PDK and the constitutional-judicial system which this party controls, have enough experience to prevent those who have more than enough deputy mandates from forming a government. In that way, the crisis continues, but with a big difference in relation to 2014. The LDK, as the most unstable element in the opposition to the PDK, learned a bitter lesson from flirting with the PDK in 2014, because it came back and hit them on the nose.

In which direction, therefore, will the situation and the increasingly obvious new political crisis in Kosovo unfold? The most probable likely outcome would appear to be a new snap parliamentary election – the fourth in a row. That will not happen immediately, because political and legal manœuvres will be used to continue the buying of time, which is one of the main aims of those who several months ago came to the idea of provoking a snap election – to defer as long as possible the consumption of the horribly bitter pill which Kosovo will soon have to swallow: the problem of the Special Court.

The Hague as a “generator” of the crisis

The snap election of 11 June was called after the vote of confidence in the PDK-LDK government took place on 10 May. The opposition’s proposal of a motion of no-confidence in the government was supported by deputies of the PDK, with the explanation that the government – of which the PDK comprised a half – had allegedly failed to take big decisions, as though that was only in the competence of the other half of the government, made up of members of the LDK. The explanation was so incoherent that it caused observers to take a closer look at the reason why one Siamese twin should accuse the other of breaking the chair on which they could only sit together. One of the most convincing theories about the totally unnecessary snap election, in a situation when Kosovo has many more important things to do, is linked with the imminent arrival on the scene of the Special Court, in charge of examining the claims from the report of Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty concerning the mass abduction and disappearance of some 400 people after the war, of whom the majority comprised Serbs, but also included Albanians and members of other non-Serb minorities. The list of possible suspects for those crimes, according to Marty’s findings, includes the names of former top leaders of the KLA (and today’s PDK), with Thaçi at their head.

According to this theory, the artificial provocation of a snap election was motivated by the desire of the politicians concerned to buy time, that is, to postpone the commencement of the mandate of the Court and its special prosecution office, which should be starting to raise indictments. By means of the election, they were aiming to stabilize for the next four years the political power of those who might be targeted by the court, as well as creating the space for a process of “trading” with international factors behind the scenes, a process in which those in Pristina who feel uncertain as to whether they are on the Special Court’s list or not, could represent themselves as the legitimately-elected power for the next four years and the only factor guaranteeing stability and peace in Kosovo. Apart from that, they could take responsibility for honestly fulfilling the “homework” set to them from outside – the ratification of the border agreement with Montenegro, the continuation of dialogue with Serbia, the formation of the Community of Serbian Municipalities, the formation of the Kosovo Amy through constitutional changes and not legislative amendments. As to other rational theories and explanations why the PDK should bring itself down from power – there are none.

At any rate, because of the current parliamentary-election chaos in Kosovo, the prosecutor’s office in The Hague will not be in a position to issue the first indictments for a long time, nor will the Special Court be in a position to launch any trials. Such steps in the tense situation at present prevailing in Kosovo could be interpreted as the Court interfering in the post-election crisis and even aligning itself against one side (the accused) in favour of the other (the accusing). In Pristina, no serious person excludes the possibility of disturbances after the issue of indictments and the arrest of the first suspects, even in a more stable political situation. Of course, such a step by The Hague would be even much more dangerous in the conditions of overheated emotions which are prevailing – and not only in Pristina – over the formation of the new government. This confirms how right were those who commented on the calling of a snap election only one year before the regular date for holding one, as well as on the so far unique political act of bringing oneself down from power, by bringing forward the theory of a “conspiracy” against the Special Court.

The crisis after the 2014 election lasted six months and was resolved amid great difficulty with help and pressure from outside. Taking into account the “precious” experience which the then (and present) protagonists gained in “managing” crises and business of this kind, it would not be surprising if the current one lasted as long.

However, in contrast to the previous crisis, the present one has yet another great and, so far, unused chance for self-renewal: the calling of a new snap election after six months.


(Translator: John White)


[1] Only one of them is needed because the formula for governing, which requires a total number of 61 deputy votes in a parliament of 120 deputies, also includes the 20 votes of minority parties.