Parliamentary Elections (snap)

February 14, 2021

Results

Albin Kurti’s Vetëvendosje won a landslide victory with 48% of the vote (56 seats). The PDK came in second at 17% (20 seats), followed by the LDK at 13% (15 seats). Ramush Haradinaj’s AAK came in just above the voting threshold at 7% (9 seats). The Srpska Lista gained 5% of the vote, gaining all 10 seats reserved for Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

Vetëvendosje is expected to gain a few more seats as counting of the diaspora vote wraps up. Kurti has announced his intention to engage in coalition talks with non-Serb minorities in order to garner the 61 seats needed for a governing majority. This election is a stunning rebuke of Kosovo’s establishment parties, which suffered their worst performances to date. Isa Mustafa resigned as head of the LDK the day after the election.

Background

  • Unicameral parliament in unitary parliamentary constitutional republic; National Assembly consists of 120 seats, 100 of which are filled directly by elections while 20 are reserved for minority parties.
  • Of the seats reserved for minorities, 10 are apportioned to the Serbian minority, 4 for the Roma/Ashkali/Egyptian minority, 3 for the Bosniak minority, 2 for the Turkish minority, and 1 for the Gorani minority.
  • Proportional, party-list voting system, 5% vote threshold to enter parliament, members serve a four-year term. The Assembly elects the Prime Minister.
  • Incumbent: Former Prime Minister Avdulluh Hoti of the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK); new elections were called after Kosovo’s Constitutional Court ruled that the deciding vote to install Hoti’s government in June 2020—which passed by one vote (61 votes) —was unconstitutional because the MP who cast the deciding vote had been convicted of a crime and should have been stripped of his position.
  • Vjosa Osmani, the speaker of the parliament, currently serves as the Acting President of Kosovo following the resignation of Hashim Thaci due to a war crimes indictment; the parliament is expected to vote for a new President shortly after the parliamentary elections conclude.
  • This is the 5th election in Kosovo since 2010 (Kosovo gained independence in 2008).
     

Contenders

  • Vetëvendosje (VV): led by Albin Kurti; leftist, progressive, nationalistic party; strong anti-corruption platform. The most popular party in Kosovo, Vetëvendosje is partnering with Vjosa Osmani in the coming election, presenting Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani as the party’s candidates for Prime Minister and President, respectively. Kurti served as prime minister for 51 days following the 2019 election.
  • Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK): led by Isa Mustafa, LDK is the largest party in Kosovo; center-right, conservative; the LDK brought down the government of Albin Kurti in 2019 by calling for a no-confidence vote, leading Vjosa Osmani to leave the party.
  • Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK): one of the largest political parties in Kosovo and a traditional rival of the LDK; center-right, conservative; PDK leadership was shaken in 2020 as party leader Kadri Vesseli and former President Hashim Thaci were indicted for war crimes and are currently in the Hague awaiting trial.
  • Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK): led by former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj; center-right leaning, conservative; Haradinaj resisted a land-swap deal with Serbia allegedly proposed by President Hashim Thaci in 2018.
     

Impact on U.S. Interests

  • Kosovo hosts the largest U.S. base in the Western Balkans, Camp Bondsteel, home to approximately 7,000 U.S. and European troops. The U.S. is also the largest contributor to the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) with 627 troops. The U.S. has invested approximately $2 billion in Kosovo since 1999 and continues to support Kosovo’s full recognition and integration into the international community as a multi-ethnic, democratic state.
  • Kosovo views the United States as its most important international partner and as a counterbalance to Serbia and its relationship with Russia. However, the U.S.-Kosovo bilateral relationship became strained during the Trump administration due to the U.S. government’s forceful tactics to ensure the Kosovo’s acceptance of a U.S.-brokered agreement with Serbia, which eventually forced the collapse of the Kurti government. As part of the Washington Agreement of September 2020, Israel recognized Kosovo’s independence (the 117th country to do so) and Kosovo agreed to move its diplomatic mission in the country to Jerusalem.
  • The next Prime Minister will represent Kosovo in the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, which was restarted in July 2020. It is not yet clear how the Biden administration will re-engage with the EU, Pristina, and Belgrade on the normalization talks and broader regional policy, but Washington will seek to coordinate rather than compete with the EU.
     

Key Issues to Watch

  • Following the decision of Kosovo’s Constitutional Court in December 2020, Kosovo’s Central Election Commission refused to certify 47 candidates on party lists who have been found guilty of a criminal offense in the past three years, including Albin Kurti. Although this should disqualify Kurti from serving as a MP, he has continued to campaign ahead of the election, arguing that he could still be elected Prime Minister by the assembly.
  • Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani’s election platform has centered on rooting out corruption and state capture; lowering the unemployment rate, particularly amongst youth; and addressing Covid-19 pandemic and forming a vaccination strategy for the country.
  • If Kurti and Osmani win a majority in parliament, this will be the first government since Kosovo’s independence to exclude both the PDK and the LDK, offering VV an opportunity to expose state corruption and political dealings between the entrenched parties. There is a chance that the parties that lose the election could challenge the outcome at the Constitutional Court level. This is uncharted legal territory in Kosovo, which could lead to demonstrations and political instability.
  • In the past Kurti and VV have been critical of U.S. and European diplomacy towards Kosovo. It remains to be seen whether the previous administration’s facilitation of the collapse of Kurti’s government will harden these views.
     

Polls

  • Polls from January 2021 put Vetëvendosje significantly in the lead at 51%. The PDK and LDK are vying for second place, at 13.2% and 15.5% respectively. Ramush Haradinaj’s AAK is polling fourth at 5.5%, barely above the threshold to enter parliament, but together with minority parties could prove crucial in coalition talks if Vetëvendosje fails to secure a majority.