The predicted victory, with 98 percent of votes counted, opens the possibility for fundamental changes in Kosovo, which is suffering politically and economically, but there are bureaucratic challenges to overcome.
Kosovo’s ruling ‘War Coalition’, comprised of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders, suffered a crushing defeat last night to the left-wing, social-democratic Self-Determination party (Vetevendosje or VV). The party led the polls with more than 98 percent of the votes counted.
The coalition is named such because it is made up of former commanders from Kosovo’s war of liberation against Serb attempts to ethnically cleanse Albanians.
Shpend Kursani, a PhD researcher in the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the European University Institute, argues that the “victory opens the possibility for some fundamental changes to take place” in Kosovo.
Kursani lists state capture, the need to prosecute politicians tainted by corruption and the party’s relationship with Serbia-backed parties in Kosovo.
“Serbia will maintain its influence in the parliament but also in the government. The previous governments did not have a problem with this so long as parties and individuals that constituted these governments could remain in power. VV is not at ease with Serbia having the influence it has. It remains to be seen how VV will deal with this,” said Kursani.
Change of the guard
The early elections were called after former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, a former commander in the KLA, resigned earlier this year to answer questions over alleged war crimes during Kosovo’s war of liberation against Serbia.
For many in Kosovo, it will feel like a watershed moment that a party which “introduced the vocabulary of anti-colonialism in response to the post-war neoliberal administration of Kosovo”, led by Albin Kurti’s VV, is poised to form the new government.
The votes are still being counted, but Kurti’s party leads with a wafer-thin margin of 25.55 percent of the votes whereas the second party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), is on 24.87 percent.
The biggest loser has been the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), led by the Speaker of Parliament Kadri Veseli and President Hashim Thaci, who formerly led the party and is now President of Kosovo.
The PDK has suffered a dramatic collapse of its vote share from 34 percent in the 2017 elections, where it ran as an alliance of four political parties to 21.13 percent - a damning indictment after 12 years in power and widespread allegations of increased corruption and nepotism.
Dr Piro Rexhepi, an academic focused on the Balkans was upbeat about VV’s election prospects.
“I think VV is the only political movement in Kosovo that can pull the country out of the ongoing economic and political crisis. It is the only alternative to corrupt conservative forces that have held the country hostage for two decades,” said Rexhepi.
Kosovo suffers from a stubbornly high unemployment rate at 35 percent, and a lack of economic prospects is leading to increasing numbers of young people wanting to leave the country.
There is a high degree of pessimism amongst Kosovo’s citizens and their prospects in the country.
During the recent premiership of Haradinaj, there was an expectation from the international community that there should be a land giveaway by Kosovo to Serbia.
In conversations I had with senior Kosovo politicians during a recent visit, what this meant in practice is that Kosovo had to give away part of its northern region of Leposaviq, agree to the joint administration between Serbia and Kosovo of the strategic Gazivoda Dam and either the privatisation of the Trepca gold mine or a joint administration.
In return, Kosovo would get de-facto recognition from Serbia and a promise by Serbia that it would no longer lobby countries to not recognise Kosovo or lobby states to withdraw their recognitions.
Before this election, I spoke with several politicians in Kosovo, and many felt that such an option is still on the table. Kosovo’s main political parties during this election campaign avoided discussions on the dialogue with Serbia - but it will almost certainly be one of the primary tasks that any incoming government will have to tackle.
Former prime minister Haradinaj blocked plans to partition Kosovo and raised tariffs on Serbia which resulted in significant tensions with the international community. Several sources I spoke to in Kosovo believe that his premature resignation earlier this summer was politically motivated after he defied the EU and the US on negotiations with Serbia.
Kurti’s VV party victory, therefore, serves as a significant blow to international hopes of a more cooperative government and with a strengthened mandate, it could offer a more positive vision for Kosovo.
Challenges in government
Kosovo’s new would-be prime minister, Kurti, will firstly face the uphill battle to form a coalition, most likely with the runner up opposition party - Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) which has won 24.87 percent of the vote.
The leader of LDK, Vjosa Osmani, a smart and tough woman, took many by surprise when she was selected to lead the party into these elections. Her performance on the campaign trail has been equally impressive.
Osmani, however, has also been described by many that have worked with her as too “arrogant”.
When Kurti, offered her party a pre-election alliance, it was flatly rejected. Had LDK won the elections, it would have almost certainly declined to ally with Kurti, and these negotiations could mean months of potential horse-trading.
Kurti will also face another challenge in government. The party will be dealing with the remnants of the old guard when it comes to bureaucracy and police forces. Over the last 20 years, many positions in Kosovo’s institutions have been staffed by family members and friends of political parties principally from the ‘War Coalition’.
“Many civil servants are party servants. Servants of parties that have lost these elections. It is difficult to clean the bureaucracy in a single four-year government term. Thus, VV could face sabotage from the currently established bureaucracy which is linked to parties that seem to be going in the opposition now. This is not going to be easy,” said Kursani.
Kurti’s VV party is similar to that of Greece’s Syriza - untested in government and with a list of potentially adversarial political positions that could see it on a collision course with the EU and US politicians seeking a compliant partner.
Disciplining of the party by these stakeholders, combined with potential opposition from within the state could sap significant energy or derail attempts to govern.
An answer to this external pressure could be to “clean core dimensions of the state, which include, police and other security structures, the judicial sector, and the prosecutorial sector”, added Kursani.