Perspectives | Elections 2017 | Democracy

We don’t yet know who will form Kosovo’s government, but it is clear that citizens voted for change

By - 12.06.2017

Politicians from all parties should pay careful attention to yesterday’s shock results.

It was always suspected that the results of yesterday’s election might fail to throw up a clear cut winner. Such predictions have come to pass, as preliminary results indicate that not only did no political entity win enough votes to form a majority, but that the PAN coalition of PDK-AAK-Nisma, which inevitably secured the largest share of the votes, looks unable to form a government even with the support of minority parties.

What comes next will be a complicated process of behind-the-scenes negotiations, to see who could form the next government, a process that is sure to produce big winners and big losers in a state that is deeply polarized.

One thing that is clear, is that the party with most to celebrate is Vetevendosje. Having secured 99,000 votes in 2014, it has increased that figure to more than 186,000 votes this time around. Vetevendosje was closely followed by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which was squeezed into third place for the first time since the party was formed in 1989.

PAN, led by PDK-AAK-NISMA, but composed of 16 parties in total, secured around 236,000 votes, approximately the same number that PDK secured running alone in 2014, while the coalition parties had a combined total of nearer 320,000 in 2014. It will try to spin today’s results as a big victory — and has indeed already begun to do just that — but the PAN parties will know that these figures represent a significant blow. If PDK is to by some means cling onto power, not just for now, but in future elections to come, it must somehow seek to convince the electorate that it hears their concerns and can change.

It can now also be assumed that Vetevendosje is the largest single political party in Kosovo and Albin Kurti et al will feel vindicated in their decision to go it alone amid the grand pre-election coalitions of their political opponents.

All parties must now grasp that there are no strongholds in this country and that no one should be in the comfort zone believing they have an entitlement to govern the country despite practices of corruption, clientelism and narrow self-interests.

A look into voting patterns indicates that citizens have voted against the traditional parties that have alternated power between them in the last 18 years in Kosovo, with the election coalitions headed by PDK and LDK seeing their vote drop in virtually every area, while Vetevendosje has seen a corresponding rise across the country.

The electoral boom in many cities across Kosovo, and particularly in traditional LDK strongholds such as Gjilan and Ferizaj, which both saw Vetevendosje secure the largest proportion of the votes yesterday, has left many astonished. However, it sends a strong signal that people wanted to punish the ‘big parties’ and preferred to vote for a party that had never been in power on a national level and that has always tried to differentiate itself from the tried and tested “old politics.”

Vetevendosje party branches in Gjilan and Ferizaj are weak and incomparable with those of LDK or PDK. But despite this minimal local-base, there has been a remarkable increase in votes for Vetevendosje in these cities. In Ferizaj, where just three of the 41 Local Assembly deputies are currently from Vetevendosje, the party secured over 14,700 votes, more than double the 6,885 it won here in 2014.

Many of those who turned out to vote yesterday will hope that the magnitude of the results will serve as a much needed injection to Kosovo’s democracy by empowering citizens and serving notice to those parties that traditionally rely on the votes of party “militants.” It seems the days of parties avoiding accountability by falling back on the votes of militants may be over.

All parties must now grasp that there are no strongholds in this country and that no one should be in the comfort zone, believing they have an entitlement to govern the country despite practices of corruption, clientelism and narrow self-interests; the election has shown that consistency and a meaningful political program can prevail in Kosovo in order to attract votes. It appears that Kosovars have reacted with skepticism to the last minute pre-election coalitions of both former ruling parties, that were formed with little political consistency and were seen widely as simply a calculated move to maintain power.

The people have spoken, and they have demanded change.

The result also presents a challenge to Vetevendosje, as it must now maintain its self-styled role as the anti-corruption party and keep the many promises and pledges that it has made to the voters; not all of those who voted for Vetevendosje yesterday did so out of any great affinity to the party or its leaders, but out of the hope that it represents something different to what has gone before. Any move that contradicts the high standards that it has set itself will surely see its share of the vote drop immediately. While the party will obviously celebrate the shockwave that it has sent through Kosovar politics, it cannot afford to become complacent at its apparent breakthrough on the national stage.

Vetevendosje must now traverse a transitory path from the opposition politics of detecting Kosovo’s problems, to showing it can responsibly offer genuine solutions to the innumerable challenges that Kosovo faces, and will continue to face. In doing so Vetevendosje needs partners — despite all the euphoria, it is still far from achieving a majority, and indeed is not even the largest political entity, with PAN having the first opportunity to form a government. But last night in his speech, the party’s candidate for prime minister, Albin Kurti, demonstrated the increasing political maturity that has been remarked upon throughout the campaign, by calling for the need to unify political forces and restating that Vetevendosje does not seek revenge.

Despite this, the party still has its red lines. Shpend Ahmeti and Dardan Molliqaj, speaking on Klan Kosova, strongly reaffirmed that Vetevendosje would not enter any coalition with PDK, and while implying that LDK would be an option, they were clear that it is Vetevendosje that has captured the imagination of voters and that LDK would be in no position to make big demands.

LDK is now between a rock and a hard place. Its coalition with PDK in the last government has apparently cost it dear, as despite joining forces with Alternativa and AKR before this election, its 178,000 votes meant it failed to even secure the number of votes that it received in 2014 while running alone. Going into coalition with PDK once again would be deeply divisive, and many within the party will warn that such a move could spell the end of Kosovo’s oldest political party, particularly in light of the voting trends in this election. That means agreeing to a junior role in a potential coalition with Vetevendosje, or accepting that it will enter a period of opposition.

Whatever the permutation of Kosovo’s next government — and long periods of stalemate or further elections should by no means be ruled out — it is clear that something has shifted in Kosovo’s politics; relying on the political heritage of the Kosovo Liberation Army or Ibrahim Rugova is no longer enough to ensure the support of voters. The people have spoken, and they have demanded change.K

Feature image: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.

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