The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.
On October 6th, 2019, Kosovo, Europe’s youngest nation, goes to the polls to elect its next Prime Minister and the members of the National Legislative Assembly. These polls come at a crucial time for the country, which is facing a slowing economy, high unemployment rates, and a never-ending diplomatic tussle with Serbia for recognition as well as for membership in the European Union.
These elections are going to be the seventh time the country is going to polls, despite having official elections only since 2001. Kosovo was engaged in an intense two-year war for independence with Serbia from 1998-1999 and won the war with the help of NATO’s intervention. After being administered by a United Nations mission (UNMIK) for eight years, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17th February 2008. However, since independence and despite being the European Union’s largest per-capita aid recipient (European Court of Auditors, 2012), the country has been plagued with political instability and economic problems. None of the Prime Ministers since 2001 has succeeded in completing the allocated term of four years, and the political scene is riddled with weakly formed coalitions by the various parties, including those representing minorities. Defections and changes in loyalties are common, and there exists a general lack of ideological adherence by the parties.
The last government could last only for a little more than two years. This was because the former Prime Minister, Ramush Hardinaj was summoned by the International Court of Justice to answer accusations of war crimes during the 1999 war, leading to him stepping down from the post and the Assembly to call for fresh elections.
This article first gives a brief description of the electoral system in Kosovo and the various coalitions that are vying for power in the upcoming elections, before reflecting on the importance of these elections to the country.
The way it works
Unlike most democracies, Kosovo does not follow a regional representation system of elections in which the country is divided into electoral constituencies, each of which elects their representative to the main legislative body. Rather, Kosovo’s elections work by considering the country a “single, multi-member electoral district” (EC, 2018). What this means is that the entire nation has one list of political entities (a coalition of parties/single parties/independent candidates) and another list having all the candidates from these parties. A voter is supposed to first choose a political party from the first list, and then out of the list of candidates, choose five that belong to the said party.
Any political entity that has greater than or equal to 5% of the total votes is eligible to a seat in the Assembly. Out of the 120 seats available, 20 seats are reserved for the ethnic minorities of the country, namely the Kosovo Serbs (10 seats) and other minorities such as the Roma, Ashkali and other ethnicities (together 10 seats).
Who is contesting?
As mentioned above, a lack of a strong political entity enjoying the support of a majority of the electorate is conspicuously absent. Over the last two decades, various political parties have emerged espousing different ideological claims, only to have splinters and defections among themselves. Therefore, no single party has ever won an absolute majority in the Assembly elections yet, and this election also promises to be no different. Six political coalitions have ultimately thrown their hats in the ring, their prime ministerial candidates vying for the top executive position of the country.
- Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK): This is the country’s oldest political party, formed in 1989. This is a Center-Right party and is known for its hard position vis-à-vis Serbia and the related territorial disputes. Their Prime Ministerial candidate, Vjosa Osmani, is Kosovo’s first female Prime Ministerial candidate. The party is running on the now-familiar issues of territorial integrity and improving healthcare infrastructure.
- Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK): The PDK is a party that was formed from the political wing of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was the major separatist militia group involved in the Kosovo-Serbia war of 1998-1999. The PDK generally advocates for the privatization of most parts of the public sector as well as public land. In these elections, they are running on a mandate of fighting corruption and organized crime, and their Prime Ministerial candidate is Kadri Veseli.
- Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) + Social Democratic Party (PSD): The AAK, another political body of the former KLA and the PSD, a party with communist roots formed a perplexing alliance in 2017. This gives credence to the previous assertion that political parties here don’t have great adherence to ideology. The last Prime Minister, Ramush Hardinaj is the candidate of this coalition and the party has campaigned on the basis of improving tax collection mechanisms and the privatization and development of public land.
- Vetëvendosje (LVV): The LVV is a left-leaning party, whose party names translates to ‘Self-Determination’. Founded and led by Prime Ministerial candidate Albin Kurti, the party enjoys the popularity of a large proportion of the youth and is well known for conducting strikes and demonstrations (often damaging public property), and for opposing a large amount of foreign intervention in national administration. For these elections, they are running on cutting governance costs, promoting small and medium enterprises, judicial reforms and higher diaspora engagement.
- Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA) + New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) + Justice Party (PD): NISMA is headed by its Prime Ministerial candidate, Fatmir Limaj. NISMA was part of the last ruling coalition, and the party led the Ministry of Education. They have come under attack with accusations of high levels of nepotism and corruption. For this election, they are running on promises of agricultural reform and improvements in primary education. The AKR and the PD are smaller parties and often act as ‘kingmaker’ parties without having set mandates of their own.
- Sloboda Coalition: This is a coalition consisting of ethnically Serb parties, that are primarily backed by Belgrade. Their Prime Ministerial candidate is Nenad Rasic. Not a great deal of information is publicly available regarding their mandate.
Why are these elections important?
As mentioned above, the 2019 elections come at a critical juncture for Kosovo, a time where it is trying hard to find its own place in Europe and the world after the gradual decrease in attention from international bodies and allies. The high unemployment rate (~33%) together with the large proportion of youth in the country has led to a lot of frustration among the population. This is not helped by the fact that Visa liberalization within the EU remains a distant goal, while no other Balkan country faces this issue. Corruption within the Government is high (Transparency International, 2018), nepotism is a major issue preventing merit-based appointments in the Government agencies, and the tertiary education sector is finding it hard to function without qualified teachers and robust infrastructure. A large rate of emigration and a general lack of skills in the country’s remaining youth discourages jobs from coming into the country, and the lack of jobs only pushes up the number of people leaving the country (Begisholli, 2019), making it a vicious cycle.
However, not all is dark and gloomy here in Kosovo. The entrepreneurial spirit runs high in the country, with the young people innovating and setting up new businesses every day. This has proven to be a major economy booster. The diaspora of the country is one of the most engaged diaspora communities in the world and contributes ~15% of the country’s GDP through remittances. They are also some of the largest capital investors in the country, helping set up a large number (~25%) of businesses in Kosovo.
What is required now is a way to channelize the high energy of the country’s youth and give them avenues to succeed. This includes a better education system, better standards of living, and transparent institutions. This is precisely why these elections are a point of reckoning. It is largely believed by the citizens that a strong leader and an efficient government will be the key to solving Kosovo’s problems. To what extent this is true, or for that matter, feasible, only the 6th of October will tell.
Begisholli, B. (2019, April 19). Kosovo Parliament Debates Mass Exodus of Young. Balkan Insight.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION FOR DEMOCRACY THROUGH LAW. (2018). LAW NO. 003/L-073 ON GENERAL ELECTIONS.
European Court of Auditors. (2012). European Union assistance to Kosovo related to the rule of law- English. EU Publications. Retrieved October 2, 2019, from https://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/2e066c35-81d4-489f-8ba3-3e83d56acf1b
Transparency International. (2018). Corruption Perceptions Index 2018. Retrieved October 02, 2019, from https://www.transparency.org/country/KOS#