Democracy is not about changing leaders but exchanging, and fighting for, ideas.
Around 15 days ago, here at K2.0 we began an issue-based election coverage of the main political parties that were part of the last legislature. Our aim was to offer an understanding of where the parties stand on the ideological spectrum, and what their specific governing programs have to offer. If citizens are about to elect their next representatives, then the least they should be offered is an understanding of the parties’ positions as well as the policies that they plan to implement if elected.
This is the minimum for a democracy to be just that — representative of the citizens who entrust political parties to execute and see through the issues upon which they have pledged to deliver. However, covering issues and specific implementation programs is easier said than done in Kosovo. From vague words to bullet-pointing priority areas, or relying on populist phrases that lack any particular vision, their indifference to programs shows just how much these political parties view the state and government through a self-entitlement and self-proclaimed right, rather than with any kind of vision based on a responsibility and obligation to serve their constituents.
The fact that no government coalition since independence has lasted its full four-year terms is a case in point. Three motions of no confidence (2010, 2014, and now 2017) have not been necessarily called due to disagreements over divisive policy issues that affect citizens’ lives, or conflicting positions over implementation of programs. They have rather been generally based on calculated political moves that could potentially give the instigators control — or even greater control — of power over the state.
If parties of the so-called PAN coalition have one thing in common then it is that they represent a political class driven by prospects of personal gains and benefits, rather than based on principles and ideas of governance.
This time around, it was no different. For some opposition parties, the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, as one of the most-heated and divisive political issues of the past two years, was more a tool used for stirring emotional and nationalistic reactions that could yield popular support, than it was necessarily based on a firm belief in the cause itself.
AAK and Nisma, who just as much as Vetevendosje, handicapped and halted institutional life over the past two years through their rejection of this agreement, had no reservations in quickly abandoning their “principles” and position, when they entered a pre-election coalition with PDK, otherwise their sworn political enemy. Moreover, doing so a couple of minutes before the midnight deadline of May 16, again clearly speaks to their thirst for power no matter the cost.
If parties of the so-called PAN coalition (PDK, AAK, and Nisma), have one thing in common then it is that they represent a political class driven by prospects of personal gains and benefits, rather than based on principles and ideas of governance. LDK is no different — whether in recalling its damaging 13-year governance in Prishtina that had suffocated any life out of the capital, or by looking at their political maneuvers as well, be it in the 2007 or 2014 elections, when they too entered government with PDK.
So that such is the political perspective is no surprise. Politics has never materialized into a sphere that is led by argumentation of ideas or visions. In fact, politics has become synonymous with a grab for power that takes place at the expense of citizens. Otherwise, no matter whether it is a snap election or one coming at the end of a term, a detailed, policy-oriented program should already be in place, and with concrete plans laying out its implementation.
Mere marketing campaigns
So, for the past 10-days of official election campaign, we have listened to over-the-top promises, self-congratulation and self-glorifications with no grounds to do so, and cheap, personal attacks, rather than policies grounded in any viable vision written down in a comprehensive party program. For those that have been in power to date, particularly PDK, this is their last remaining method, for they can no longer camouflage their arrogance or lack of any visible or tangible progress.
After nine years in government, PDK with its “The New Beginning” offers only one novel thing — a party that is now led by Kadri Veseli. His marketing campaign, initiated months before the election was even called, and lacking in any substance, speaks of a man determined to get his hands on the top job no matter what.
However, to date he has not answered for his past activity as head the Secret Services of Kosovo from 1999-2007. To hear him speak of democracy and equality never ceases to add to a sense of bewilderment, as we’re left to fill in the gaps of his past work through our imaginations and based on the bits and pieces of information that are out there. This is something that we have to keep repeating, no matter how redundant it might seem or become. For otherwise, we risk normalizing and legitimizing the bad, and ending up with a man, who once led an underground organization that reported to no one and through no official channels, leading the state as well.
No matter how much these parties try to wrap up their election messages in novel political communication practices or images that attempt to represent them as close to the people, it doesn’t disguise their disregard of ordinary citizens.
Their 39-page program, filled with spelling errors, which they have prepared under the coalition banner but have yet to release publicly, just three days before the end of the official campaign, is yet another indication of how they have nothing new to offer. This time around, they’ve included “A Museum for Kosovo’s War of Liberation,” another attempt to play on their war narrative.
While they might have the financial means — though it is unclear how — to invest in slick campaign videos and messaging that attempts to present them as modernized, contemporary and citizen-focussed party, it is all but a facade to the oligarchy they truly represent. And keeping this hold and capture on power means that they are ready to concede the position of prime minister to a rival in the short-term.
Meanwhile, AAK’s “The Time for Good People has Come” with PAN prime minister candidate Ramush Haradinaj at its helm, or LDK’s “Coalition of Hope and Besa” with coalition partners AKR and Alternativa fronted by Avdullah Hoti, keep perpetuating a conservatism beyond their center-right economic policies that is rooted in a social insistence of traditionalism and patriarchy.
So, no matter how much these parties try to wrap up their election messages in novel political communication practices through social media, videos, or images that attempt to represent them as close to the people, it doesn’t disguise their disregard of ordinary citizens. These are parties that while they do not have a problem with funding their campaign with our taxes, their prime ministerial candidates refuse to be challenged or to publicly debate one another, which is a fundamental obligation they hold toward society.
Such a position is nothing other than an insult to those they seek to represent, yet again proving not only their arrogance, but also their fear of confrontation — be it with one another, or the public at large. Maybe this is also why since 2008 all elections have been extraordinary, as it suits them to have a 10-day campaign, with anything longer threatening to further expose their broken promises and lack of vision.
These are parties that while they do not have a problem with funding their campaign with our taxes, their prime ministerial candidates refuse to be challenged or to publicly debate one another, which is a fundamental obligation they hold toward society.
The common pre-election habit of individuals from various fields joining parties has not been missing from this election season either. But, the prospects of inducing change from within still seems far-fetched as party leaders continue to have a strong controlling grip.
With PDK and AAK, the “new entries” end up adopting and reiterating the same vague party lines that promise Euro-Atlantic integration — as though it’s a process that just needs approval without any prior reforms; or arguing that the decision to join the party is due to a belief and trust in an individual personality, the party’s leader, which just goes to further prove their lack of belief in any substance that the party as a whole has to offer. Meanwhile, in LDK there is a clear discrepancy between “new members” who are attempting to reinvigorate perceptions of governance by insisting that it involves teams of professionals, while the “old members” still continue to insist on the glorification of individual leaders.
In all this, it is only right to note that Vetevendosje, as one of the leading opposition voices so far, has been one of the few parties offering a cohesive and grounded political program. Moreover, much of it has been based on social policies that take into account the economic and social conditions of the majority of citizens. However, as they attempt to move away from the ‘activist image’ to one that is asking for trust in their leadership and program, it is not all that easy to immediately ignore that all too often they have used a mixture of violent methods, including tear gas and damaging state property, to get across their stances.
They might take credit for having succeeded in their political aim of preventing the PDK-LDK coalition from carrying out its full term — a political aim they made all too clear from the outset. And in fact, many citizens might have chosen to overlook or even to endorse the means as acceptable, as they represent an opposition to the established ruling class.
But just because Vetevendosje now appear to be more moderate, and that they have not been part of the national governing structure to date, does not automatically bestow upon them ownership over the narrative of what change should look like. They might have established a more transparent governance in Prishtina, but they still tend to fall back on demagogy. So, if they truly want to present their political position as social democratic, they need to remember that citizenship is not subject to ethnicity. And their populist rhetoric is as much of a valid concern for they have alienated many citizens, who fear that their rigidity with regard to their own beliefs and viewpoints will exclude others who don’t agree politically.
Time to demand more
So, what should we expect from these national elections? What is the societal change that can emerge when political parties resist change?
Over the past couple of weeks, many have made the argument that one positive fact stemming out of these elections is that it is reorganizing the political landscape, as political parties join partnerships, it might also lead to having to define themselves along the ideological spectrum. And that ultimately, such partnerships might slowly open the way for future debates to be more policy and issue oriented.
Whether that happens or not, in the meantime it is up to society at large to insist on a change in approach toward those who seek our votes. No longer can lack of party programs be shrugged off or disregarded on the basis and justification that not much more can be expected of this political class. And no longer should deputies be able to run just under the slogan of their party.
This system that has produced ideas that government is equal to economic privilege, or wealth, or greed. For as long as our political class feels and acts entitled, government will not be associated with what it truly is — service.
In this regard, Kosovo’s one-voting zone has had a tremendous effect on how parliamentary accountability has been set up in relation to constituents. In fact, such accountability lacks almost in its entirety. As parties determine the composition of the candidate list, priorities are set up based on the extent to which they are accountable, not to their constituencies, but to the party leadership — or better said, servile to them. As such, the Assembly ends up being comprised of individuals that speak up once or twice and who experience no sense of checks and balances, or pressure, to deliver on a platform or legislation that they may, or may not, have promised.
Regardless of the system, we should insist on candidates for deputies with legislative agendas, and political parties with overall program agendas. Otherwise, we risk granting the space to the leadership of the existing political class to determine and install a system of values that lacks meritocracy and that disregards individual freedom and choice.
This is something already visible, as it is this system that has produced ideas that government is equal to economic privilege, or wealth, or greed — some of the most common associations today. For as long as our political class feels and acts entitled, and is allowed to do so, government will not be associated with what it truly is — service.
Is is within this context that journalists, artists, columnists, or civil society activists surrender from what their profession or occupation calls them to do — that is, to challenge power — and join politics based on the arguments that “they have been given the space to act from within” or that they see a progressive future only in the leadership of one leader or another. The problem in this thinking that has been largely installed is that it seeks to enforce the idea that change can only be achieved by those in political power, and that potential individual or independent opinions or critiques do not play a part.
When there is a public outcry of disapproval in relation to such individual political sign ups, it’s not necessarily because of a perceived loss to their individual field. It is because of the damage to the reputation of the profession that they had represented and the lowering of expectations towards those who remain; it reinforces the idea that “everybody has a price” and principles or ethics can be compromised.
Such perceptions benefit the state-capturing class, and enables them to continue driving conversations based on personalities. This is where we need to stand up and fight — to insist on a societal conversation, based on real issues that affect citizens’ lives. It is only by insisting on policies, programs, implementation plans, or even merely pointing out the fact that most of those seeking our votes have none, that we can also contribute to removing their thin veneer of competence.
That’s what we here at K2.0 will always continue to do.K
Featured image: Majlinda Hoxha, K2.0.