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Albin Kurti’s victory to work out an old agenda of Kosovo

Published at: 2020-02-04

NAIM RASHITI Executive Director, Senior Policy Analyst, Western Balkans and EU Balkans Policy Research Group

Kosovo held new snap elections on 6 October this year. The record-high turnout brought change in the political landscape. Vetëvendosje Movement (LVV) of Albin Kurti won the elections with 29 out of 120 seats of the Kosovo parliament. Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) came second with 28 seats. The governing coalition of warriors lost elections. Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Kadri Veseli came third with 24 seats. The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj earned only 13 seats. The victory of the opposition parties, VV and LDK need still work to materialise.  Elections results were certified only in late November, almost two months after the vote and the electoral system impose coalitions of large number of parties.

In public, the opposition parties until now, LVV and LDK brought hopes. Voters expect them to change governance, fight corruption, attract investments and stand up against any possible ‘controversial options” for an agreement with Serbia. Kosovo’s context offers little room for radical improvement; it will be constrained by both the socio-economic reality, with an inefficient, starved-for-funds state and a dysfunctional party system, and the need to move forward in the various international-sponsored processes. All of this, in a difficult political landscape.

Despite the generally cordial campaign that preceded the elections, relations between key political actors remain tense; leaders do not trust each other and basic norms of cooperation between actors are still missing. That is especially true for the case of Albin Kurti, the leader of Vetëvendosje, who has spent much of his time in opposition (and before that, as an activist) attacking other parties, including his current potential partner LDK.

Last two years, Prime Minister Haradinaj had tense exchanges with President Hashim Thaçi, and the President of the Assembly, Kadri Veseli, the leader of PDK, the largest party of the coalition. At some point, relations between them broke down to a point of refusing to talk one to another. Vetëvendosje and LDK made a strong largely not-so-loyal opposition to Haradinaj; should they join forces in power, they will face the same treatment by the remnants of the PAN coalition. In particular, Haradinaj’s AAK will harshly defend the tariffs against Serbian goods once Kurti will remove them. In addition, PDK, which would then be the largest party in opposition, will be a challenging partner for the new government.

Furthermore, how the new government will interact with President Thaçi and his office remains doubtful. President Thaçi has so far exercised a more central role in Kosovar politics than his predecessors, due to the continuous presence of his former party in the previous governments. However, in a government led by Vetëvendosje and LDK, his influence will certainly diminish. In fact, given past animosities with them, it is likely that conflict will continue, at least until Thaçi’s end of mandate in 2021. Should the Head of State fail to build a working relationship with the Head of Government, a number of issues will risk stalling, including Foreign Affairs and the Dialogue with Serbia. Similarly, various appointments for independent constitutional institutions require consensus of both and can become a source of conflict between them. Sustained personal distaste, a shared history of mistrust and discord, and conflicting egos will make building constructive relations difficult, if not impossible.

If Kurti were to secure the premiership, he ought to build some relations with both his coalition partner and the opposition, with whom he never tried to reconcile. Any new government will have to create a favourable climate to enact the promised reforms. In the case of Kurti, especially, would entail making a U- turn and engaging with the opposition from day one.

First, he has to agree with LDK on a governing coalition and share of power; both had long engaged in talks and claimed to have come together to a joint governing program, a structure of the government, priority policies, dialogue with Serbia etc. Yet all broke down when they set to negotiate posts. LDK leader wants VV to grant him the post of the country President in 2021, after the mandate of Hashim Thaci end. For Kurti this is too much. Even if an agreement between LVV and LDK is reached soon, they ought to negotiate with minorities, including Serbs to vote their government, whose position is still unknown.

Kurti chose LDK with whom have considerable differences; LDK is a conservative party that is loyal to the statehood and identity of Kosovo, and fully adhere to liberal policies of economy, governance etc. VV insists on opposite policies. For example. LDK support full privatisation of society owned and public enterprises, Vetëvendosje wants to put all companies under a government scheme. LDK’s trust on its potential is very low, and worry that  it will be marginalised in the Kurti government or divert policies. It’s a relation that was never tired; often conflicts between them were much higher than with others, in particular when LDK leader Isa Mustafa led the government of Kosovo between 2015 and 2017. 

Both, LVV and LDK oppose new compromises in the dialogue with Serbia. For Albin Kurti, dialogue with Belgrade is not a top priority. EU and U.S. expect the new government to immediately engage in the dialogue. The Kurti-led government will remove the 100 percent tariffs imposed on goods coming from Serbia and Bosnia but will impose “full reciprocity” that will not make any easier for Belgrade. Kosovo’s allies worry that new measures can delay dialogue and if does not start soon, “the dialogue will pose for much longer”.  U.S. with two envoys, and EU to-soon-appoint a new special envoy expect Albin Kurti to appoint a broad-based negotiating team and together with President Hashim Thaçi to soon participate in the high-level dialogue, i.e. upcoming Paris Summit that French President Emanuel Macron has long aimed at doing.  LDK is more sensitive than VV toward the demands coming from international friends of Kosovo.

In recent months Albin Kurti has attempted to make himself a more Kosovo centric politician. Yet, LDK remains concerned and worry that Kurti can change position toward Kosovo statehood,  its symbols, constitution, territory etc. Led by Vjosa Osmani, but not only, LDK wants to consolidate ‘Dardania’ identity of Kosovo, established by the former leader Ibrahim Rugova. This is not one of Kurti.

Many local and international actors worry that should Albin Kurti fail to conduct or conclude the dialogue with Serbia, he may shift to his old agenda, the laisse deep in his hear, a confederation with Albania. It has become a practice for the leaders of Kosovo and Albania to promote unification every time they fail at home, but all doubts intentions of Edi Rama or Hashim Thaçi when they do so. In the case of Albin Kurti is different; he had long promoted this policy.  LDK will oppose any formal rapprochement with Albania; it will rigidly oppose the debate for any special arrangement, a confederation or any institutional make between two countries, that undermines the sole sovereignty of Kosovo.

Likewise, LDK will strongly oppose new regional initiatives, i.e. min-Schengen that recently leaders of Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania launched. Kurti objected cautiously, largely aiming at avoiding public disagreements with Albanian Prime minister Edi Rama. LDK will oppose Rama too.

Kosovo domestic problems are enormous too. Yet, the new government can find a much greater leeway to launch its own initiatives on key reforms, accountability of government, functioning of the institutions, depolitisation and effectives of highly corrupted independent agencies and regulatory bodies, foreign policy and attracting investments. It shall priorities strength of the institutions, fight against the informal economy and employ competent officials.

Kurti needs to strengthen rule of law and reforms of judiciary, increase pace on the fight against corruption and organised crime and lobby to the EU member states to secure long-delayed free visa travel for Kosovo citizens, no later than second half of 2020, when Germany preside the council. Low quality Education and a dysfunctional healthcare are in high demand better policies. Citizens expect Vetëvendosje and LDK to soon deliver on all those ‘priorities’. Kurti needs to show rapid change to meet the high expectations, to which he has long contributed too. The composition of the government, domestic politics and international developments will determine the success or failure of Albin Kurti as leader of Kosovo.

*This article is written before the new Kosovo institutions are constituted, and anticipate that Vetëvendosje and LDK will reach an agreement to form a majority and Albin Kurti to lead the government.