Can Albin Kurti and Kosovo’s likely new prime minister, steer the country towards political stability and economic prosperity?
In the midst of a global pandemic, the small Balkan nation of Kosovo found itself at the end of a Trump-led coup, which saw a fragile coalition being toppled from power in March 2020, a month after it had formed a government.
With Trump out of power, the people of Kosovo went to the polls again this weekend with the party toppled by the Trump administration set to regain a majority in parliament.
Led by Albin Kurti, the centre-left Levizja Vetevendosje (LVV) — Kosovo’s Self-determination party — has garnered almost 48 percent the votes with 99 percent of the ballots counted.
A source close to the LVV party described it to TRT World as “nothing short of a peaceful political revolution through the ballot box.”
It’s easy to see why.
Firstly the commanding victory by LVV at the polls far surpasses its previous election victory held more than a year ago where it garnered just over 26 percent of the vote (the party has done better at each consecutive election since it was founded in 2005.)
Kosovo’s voters have also sent a stinging rebuke to attempts by foreign powers attempting to interfere in the country’s electoral process.
Secondly, and just as importantly, the country which has Europe’s youngest population is tired of the corrupt establishment parties that have ruled the country over the last 20 years.
A vote for LVV wasn’t just a rebuke to the coup almost one year ago, it was also a vote for the future in a country where youth unemployment is running at more than 50 percent.
“LVV’s landslide victory is the biggest since the country’s liberation in 1999,” said the source close to LVV, surpassing even the country’s founder, Ibrahim Rugova, who achieved just over 45 percent of the vote in the early 2000s.
“This will lead to a complete realignment in Kosovo's political scene,” added the source with a stark warning for the country’s two establishment parties who are trailing in second and third position on 17 percent and 13 percent, reform or “be relegated to the wilderness for a long time.”
Elections were only called after the country’s constitutional court ruled that the party that took over after LVV was illegal because one of the members of parliament that voted had a criminal record, depriving it of a working majority.
Old tricks, but there is a new game in town
The country’s Central Election Commission at the last minute in January ruled, for the first time, that each voter had to be called and if they didn’t pick up the phone, their registration would be cancelled.
The diaspora has tended to lean heavily towards supporting the LVV party.
Thousands of Albanian voters from Switzerland and Germany, which host the largest diaspora communities, descended on Kosovo to make sure that their voice was heard.
“The population has high expectations now,” says Adem Ferizaj a PhD student at SOAS University in London who focuses on the Albanian diaspora adding that, “in the election campaign, Albin Kurt highlighted ‘jobs’ and ‘justice’ as his major concerns.”
Ferizaj, who is also an ethnic-Albanian from Kosovo was not surprised at LVV’s victory.
“The other parties that used to govern the country have so far disappointed the people by not being able to improve the lives of the population in a meaningful way,” says Ferizaj speaking to TRT World.
Going forward, says Ferizaj, “it will be interesting to see whether these parties will be able to re-establish themselves again, or whether new political actors and new political cleavages, will arise.”
More broadly, says Ferizaj, LVV’s win holds important lessons for the Balkans and Europe.
“All over Europe, the Balkans included, the answer to the weaknesses of liberal democracies are coming from far-right political parties. Kosovo seems to be the only example in Europe where such an answer is coming from a leftist political party interested in social justice,” says Ferizaj.
LVV’s challenges as a party new to governing are going to be considerable. Final status negotiations with Serbia, which refuses to recognise Kosovo as an independent country will sap considerable political capital.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, this is after a war in 1999 led to Serbia attempting to ethnically cleanse Albanians which make up the vast majority of the population. NATO’s intervention was a critical turning point in ending the war resulting in the withdrawal of Serb provinces.
In addition to managing the external challenges, LVV will have domestic challenges as a “consequence of 20 years of state capture” says the source close to the party.
“The old guard has spread its tentacles into every institution of importance. It will be interesting to see how far they will go to resist the incoming government and whether the Kurti government will be able to enact deep reforms within the civil service and public institutions.”