In-depth | Elections 2017 | Elections2017

The collapse of political strongholds

By - 19.06.2017

Changes in voting trends in Ferizaj, Kacanik and Fushe Kosove.

Following June 11’s general election, the Central Election Commission (CEC) has released preliminary results showing a change in political party support on a national level. For the first time in its history, LDK has fallen to third place. The PDK-AAK-Nisma (PAN) coalition came first when taking into account the overall percentage, whereas Vetevendosje is believed to have received the most votes for a single party.

Of the 99.72 percent of votes counted by CEC to date, the PAN coalition leads with 34.14 percent, Vetevendosje is second with 27.12 percent and the LDK-AKR-Alternativa (LAA) coalition follows with 25.71 percent.

A closer look at the results show that voting trends changed drastically in some of Kosovo’s cities. In the past, certain parties have continuously triumphed in certain municipalities, so much so that some of them were deemed political strongholds. However, the most recent elections have proven that these municipalities are no longer places where votes can be taken for granted. This is especially true in Ferizaj, Kacanik and Fushe Kosove.

K2.0 visited these municipalities to talk to locals and learn more about how they view the change, what they expect from the surge in votes for Vetevendosje and how they think the general election results will inform local elections that will be held in the Autumn.

Bardh Morina, Ferizaj. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.
Zejne Zejna, Ferizaj. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.
Shkendije Ramadani, Ferizaj. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.
Bedri Sojeva, Ferizaj. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.

Ferizaj

Until now, the Municipality of Ferizaj has been led continuously by either LDK or PDK. The latter led Ferizaj for two mandates during the 2007-11 period, and again during the 2011-13 period. Since the local elections of 2013, Ferizaj has been led by LDK.

However, general election results this year positioned LDK and their coalition partners in third place with 29.85 percent of the vote, below both Vetevendosje (with 34.86 percent) and the PAN coalition (30.49 percent).

The two pre-election coalitions have lost votes, compared to preceding elections, with the individual parties winning more votes last time when running alone than their combined coalition totals this time. LDK experienced the biggest fall. In the 2014 general elections, LDK was the first party in Ferizaj with 33.21 percent of the votes, followed by PDK with 31.04 percent, Vetevendosje with 16.37 percent, and AAK with 7.6 percent.

Vetevendosje is the only political party that ran alone and registered a surge in the number of votes received in this municipality — more than double the votes it received in the last parliamentary elections.

“This attitude has been transformed into a vote for change, a vote for punishment and a vote for development.”

Bardh Morina

With over 100,000 residents, Ferizaj is seen as one of the most important economic regions in the country. However, unemployment remains one of the key issues in this municipality, along with urban planning.

Bardh Morina, a dentistry student in Ferizaj, believes that Vetevendosje’s surge can be understood through the same logic that has been used to justify their rise throughout the whole country. He added that this increase didn’t come as a surprise, since the overall attitude of people in public discussions indicated a will to change the political circumstances in the country.

Morina told K2.0 that the result came about because of the will of young people to change the overall situation in the country. The only surprise for Morina was the willingness of the elderly to support a different political cause. The change of power, approach to power and the willingness to work towards governmental change are the reasons Vetevendosje doubled its votes, he argued.

“This attitude has been transformed into a vote for change, a vote for punishment and a vote for development,” Morina said.

Another Ferizaj resident, Bedri Sojeva, shares a similar opinion. According to him, “youth are more Vetevendosje-oriented,” and this has influenced results. But he also believes that past governments have influenced these results with their lack of commitment. For Sojeva, this “change” is necessary, and it must prioritize economic development.

On the other hand, Morina says that the votes Vetevendosje got for changing the national government will not necessarily translate into a change in local election voting trends, especially when taking into account the party’s local organization.

“Vetevendosje are insufficiently organized at a municipal level,” he says. “The same cannot be said for their local level organization structures. I believe this will play a key role in local elections.” But he also believes that this can change, if before local elections Vetevendosje prioritizes local organization structures as it did on a national level for the parliamentary elections.

“I believe the June 11 results will reflect and influence better organization and candidates, and will create better cooperation with citizens,” Morina says. “A good program or plan could also be key to repeating these results [at a local level].”

Shkendije Ramadani, who works as a salesperson in a store that sells dresses, does not believe that Vetevendosje will achieve the change that the people seek, despite the fact that Vetevendosje won votes in Ferizaj as part of overall changing voting trends. She says that there are many doubts revolving around Vetevendosje, and that it is more like an NGO than a genuine political party.

Zejne Zejna, also from Ferizaj, said that he voted for PDK, though he was not surprised with Vetevendosje’s surge throughout the country. Zejna noted that people have been let down tremendously, especially by the last PDK-LDK government. But for him, forming a new government will be problematic for everybody, since it will create another institutional deadlock that can only be prevented by making some sort of agreement as soon as possible, in the interest of moving forward.

Behar Tafili, Kacanik. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.
Jusuf Rakaj, Kacanik. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.
Zyrjete Dema, Kacanik. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.

Kacanik

One of PDK’s historic strongholds, the Municipality of Kacanik, has also produced very different results this time around. Traditionally PDK has always been triumphant in Kacanik, in both general and local elections, with the party having led the Municipality for the past 17 years.

Yet this year, of the 99.88 percent of votes counted in Kacanik, Vetevendosje came first with 37.8 percent, the PAN coalition second with 37.52 percent, and the LDK-AKR-Alternativa coalition third with 22.71 percent. In the last parliamentary elections in this municipality, PDK alone won 40.34 percent of the votes, followed by LDK with 21.56 percent and Vetevendosje with 18.46 percent.

Vetevendosje has experienced a 50 percent increase in votes here since the last elections, whereas the PDK-AAK-Nisma coalition received a little less than PDK alone achieved in 2014. Kacanik has over 30,000 residents, and according to its current mayor Besim Ilazi, unemployment is the biggest issue facing this municipality, along with concerns over environmental degradation, as highlighted in NGO reports.

Behar Tafili, a citizen of Kacanik, insists that young people are seeking changes in policies and political figures, and that this change must happen, with new figures leading the way.

Behar Tafili, a local war veteran, says that “the work that has been done has translated into this change.” Tafili attributes the loss PDK experienced in what was considered to be one of their strongholds to the lack of action exhibited by past governments, at both local and central levels. He goes on to say that political parties will find it harder from now on because “the youth have become enlightened” and want to see concrete work.

Tafili insists that young people are seeking changes in policies and political figures, that these changes must consequently be made, and that new figures must lead. This latter point is critical for him, because he says “old” political figures no longer have it in them.

By contrast, Jusuf Raka, owner of a small store in the city center, says that this change isn’t real. He notes the difference in the number of votes received by Vetevendosje and PDK in Kacanik — 30 votes. Raka voted for LDK, and claims that while real changes are necessary, he does not know whether this election bring them. He went on to argue that while there are clear signs that things are progressing, for him, this is more of a euphoric moment than a political turning point.

Raka believes that the June 11 results came out as they did because young people trusted Vetevendosje’s promises for change — in particular the claims that the party made about arresting people that have been in power up until now — and he does not think these promises and proposed solutions are implementable, or that there will be a political change at the municipal level.

Tafili however believes that change has been initiated and that it cannot be stopped. He argues that we will see this reflected in local elections as well, given that branches of PDK and LDK invested a lot to try to come out top in Kacanik in the general election, but Vetevendosje still managed to win despite having almost no financial support.

On the other hand, Zyrjete Demaj thinks that since PDK held power for 18 years in Kacanik, the vote went “the other way.” She says that she has always been an LDK supporter, but she believes that big changes must happen, and that this is noticeable in the persistence of young people. Demaj says that we could easily see a repeat of the general election results in the upcoming local elections, and that as an LDK supporter, she will not see this change as a big problem for the Municipality of Kacanik.

Ejup Jashari, Fushe Kosove. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.
Fitore Lukaj, Fushe Kosove. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.
Fisnik Bajoku, Fushe Kosove. Photo: Agan Kosumi / K2.0.

Fushe Kosove

In Fushe Kosove, Vetevendosje received the most votes with 34.57 percent, followed by the LDK-AKR-Alternativa coalition with 33.83 percent, and the PAN coalition with 19.98 percent.

Traditionally, Fushe Kosove has been governed by LDK at a local level, with the party’s Burim Berisha currently leading the Municipality. In the 2014 general elections, LDK received the largest number of votes here with 34.66 percent, followed by PDK with 22.97 percent, Vetevendosje with 17.15 percent, AAK with 6.14 percent, and AKR with 4.98 percent.

Fisnik Bajoku, citizen of Fushe Kosove, believes that this change is important because the electorate is finally not voting based on “family voting traditions,” but instead by analyzing what parties actually represent.

In this year’s elections, the only party to experience a surge in votes were Vetevendosje, who doubled their votes. The two coalitions, PAN and LDK-AKR-Alternativa, both lost votes.

Ejup Jashari, a pensioner from Fushe Kosove, is surprised by the change, since he sees LDK’s governance at a municipal level as successful, and does not believe that there will be a similar change in local elections.

Fisnik Bajoku runs a store that sells school equipment. He believes that the change in the fortunes of political parties in Fushe Kosove in the general election comes as a result of “the disappointment felt by the electorate regarding LDK’s recent coalition with PDK.”

Bajoku thinks that this change did not happen because of fundamental issues, such as political party platforms, or the solutions they propose for issues in education, health care and economy. Rather, he feels the change stemmed from frustration built up among the LDK electorate towards party leaders, for the decision to form a government with their strong political rivals. The shopkeeper also believes that this change is important because eventually the electorate will not vote according to “family voting traditions” and that these are the first signs of seeing which parties people actually support.

Bajoku highlights that with local elections in mind, key factors will be candidate selection and organization of local structures, since they play a key role. In his view, if Vetevendosje manages to handle these two aspects successfully, as he feels they did in Prishtina last time around, then they may have a shot at winning Fushe Kosove.

Fitore Lukaj, who works at a money transfer company, says that in the last 18 years this municipality has not experienced any changes, and the election results — and LDK’s loss of votes here — come as a result of the current state of the situation in Fushe Kosove. Lukaj goes on to highlight that there is a need to change the overall situation in the country, and especially to change the central government, so that citizens can hope for better. She believes that this could be the reason why Vetevendosje succeeded in certain municipalities.

It remains to be seen whether there will be similar changes in this year’s local elections. However, it is clear that the electorate has changed and that political parties can no longer count on “traditional voting” trends in their former so-called strongholds.K

Feature image: Agan Kosumi / K2.0

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