Parliamentary Elections (snap)
October 6, 2019
Vetevendosje edged into first place, with 26.3% of the vote, followed by LDK at 24.5%. Kadri Veseli’s PDK came in third, with 21.2% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s AAK party came in at 11.5% of the vote. Fatmir Limaj’s NISMA and Behghet Pacolli’s AKR, which ran in coalition together, won 4.9% of the votes (representation in the National Assembly has a 5% threshold; it is unclear whether NISMA and AKR will have seats in the new National Assembly). Serbian party Srpska Lista, which is strongly backed by the Serbian government in Belgrade, won more than 90% of the votes in every Serb-majority municipality in Kosovo, and a total of 6.7% of country-wide votes. On election day, reports surfaced of a Serbian telecom provider which sent texts to its users urging them to vote for Srpska Lista. The text included the ballot number for the party and the call to action, “Serbia calls for you to give your vote.” The final result of the elections remains to be determined, however, due to several problems with the vote count, from alleged poisoned ballots from Serbia to accusations of vote count falsification. A recount is ongoing after complaints from smaller parties.
The election is being hailed as a victory of opposition parties against the traditional “war” parties, such as PDK and AAK—a moniker which refers to the prominent former KLA members that lead them. Although Vetevendosje and LDK hail from opposite ends of the political spectrum, their status as opposition members seems to have formed the basis for agreement—both sides have been involved in talks to form a governing coalition. The question of which party’s candidate will take the Prime Minister position remains divisive, though LDK leader Isa Mustafa has agreed that Vetevendosje’s Albin Kurti could become prime minister if he wins the support of smaller parties representing non-majority communities. On October 7, Kurti declared that while he welcomes negotiations with Serbs in Kosovo, he will not negotiate with Srpska Lista.
- 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: PAN coalition (Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, Democratic Party of Kosovo, and Social Democratic Initiative) previously led by Ramush Haradinaj, who resigned from his position as Prime Minister after being called for questioning in The Hague for alleged crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army during the 1990s war.
- Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) : led by Ramush Haradinaj, center-right leaning; conservative.
- Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) : led by Kadri Veseli, President of the Kosovo Assembly (parliament), center-right; conservative; Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci was the former leader of the PDK prior to assuming the presidency.
- Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA) : led by Fatmir Limaj, center-left; NISMA has signed a pre-election coalition with the Alliance for a New Kosovo.
- Vetëvendosje : led by Albin Kurti; leftist, progressive party; strongly nationalistic; perceived as anti-Western.
- Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) : led by Isa Mustafa, LDK is the largest party in Kosovo; center-right, conservative; its candidate for Prime Minister is Vjosa Osmani, the only female contender, who has vowed to tackle corruption in office and has sworn not to enter into a coalition with PDK.
- Social Democratic Party of Kosovo (PSD) : led by Shpend Ahmeti, center-left; Ahmeti used to be a member of Vetevendosje, but disagreements with Kurti led him to split from party.
- Alliance for a New Kosovo (AKR) : led by Behgjet Pacolli, Kosovo’s Foreign Minister; center-left.
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). 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 counter-balance to Serbia and its relationship with Russia. However, the U.S.-Kosovo bilateral relationship has become strained due to initial U.S. support for Kosovo to make additional concessions to Serbia (in the form of a land swap deal), in order to encourage Serbia to recognize Kosovo’s independence. As such this election has become, in part, a referendum on a new government’s relationship with Washington.
- In November 2018, the normalization talks between Serbia and Kosovo stalled following Kosovo’s imposition of a 100% tariff on Serbian goods, in reprisal for Serbia’s blocking of Kosovo’s application to join Interpol as well as in response to the land-swap concept. Thus far, the Kosovo government has refused to lift the tariffs. In response, Serbia has worked actively to have countries which had previously recognized Kosovo’s independence to “de-recognize” the country. Nearly 15 countries have de-recognized Kosovo.
- The United State recently announced a Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, the current U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell.
Key Issues to Watch
- This is the fifth consecutive time in recent history that Kosovo’s National Assembly has dissolved itself before fulfilling its mandate. No party is expected to do well enough in elections on October 6 th to govern alone. As was the case in 2017, the coalition formation math will be very complex and coalition negotiations will be protracted.
- The election will likely be very close, and it is unclear if LDK or PDK will gain the most votes. Should PDK win the most votes, it will have a difficult time finding other coalition partners. LDK is doing very well in the polls and would be receptive to coalition partners.
- There are reports of secret coalition pacts which occurred in 2017 when Haradinaj allegedly participated in secret negotiations with AKR’s Behgjet Pacolli, Goran Rakić (leader of the Serb minority party Srpska List), and Milan Radoičić (a Serb businessman with ties to organized crime and a significant influence amongst Srpska List members), to ensure their support for the PAN coalition and his candidacy for Prime Minister. It is unclear whether these reports on the eve of the election will increase support for opposition parties such as LDK and Vetëvendosje.
- This election has engaged a number of high-profile U.S. political figures in an attempt to demonstrate closeness to the Trump administration.
- For the average Kosovar citizen, this election is about fighting corruption and being able to travel to Europe without a visa. Kosovo remains the only Balkan country without a visa-free travel regime established with the European Union. Visa-free travel is a heavily symbolic issue for many Kosovars.
- The desire to travel abroad is understandable. Kosovo’s unemployment rate is 27%, with youth unemployment set to rise to 57%. More than 200,000 people emigrated from Kosovo between 2008 and 2018 out of a population of 1.8 million.
- For Kosovo’s political parties, this election is about the future of Serbian-Kosovo relations. There is a general consensus that any border changes as a means of normalizing relations with Serbia is off the table, but there are differences:
- The caretaker prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, who instigated the tariff policy, has built his campaign around the slogan, “100% Kosovo,” and may continue to resist lifting tariffs as a condition for talks.
- Members of LDK, Vetëvendosje, and PDK have signaled they would consider lifting tariffs in order to re-start talks with Serbia.
- LDK’s candidate for Prime Minister Vjosa Osmani has made clear, no deal is considered preferable to a bad deal.
Polling suggests Kosovo’s opposition parties are doing well, with LDK in the lead, Vetëvendosje close behind, and PDK coming in third.