Lately | Elections 2019

Elections: 5 Things we learnt this week

By - 20.09.2019

Tensions, expenses and published promises.

We’re now just two weeks out from the October 6 general election in Kosovo and electioneering is well and truly underway.

With the official 10-day campaign not set to begin until next Wednesday (Sept. 25), no party is prepared to wait that long to try and secure any advantage that they can in the build up to the poll.

Two leading parties even published written governing programs this week, although as a rule, details remain a little thin on the ground.

As the countdown until elections continues, here’s our weekly roundup of what we’ve learnt this week.

1. It’s never too late to start publishing promises

After weeks of dropping hints and making big statements, parties this week finally began to publish concrete pledges on what they would do if they were to be elected.

The AAK-PSD coalition’s prime ministerial candidate, Ramush Haradinaj, was the first to unveil his plan for government.

Playing on the 100% tax theme that was already clearly the central plank of AAK’s election strategy, Haradinaj posted a brochure on Facebook listing 100 — mainly one-line — pledges. At the top of the list is maintaining the 100% tax on Serbian products “until Kosovo’s recognition,” followed by “applying for EU candidate status” by the end of 2020. 

At number three is “securing a final decision on visa liberalization” by 2020; ahead of the last general election campaign in 2017, Haradinaj famously promised that Kosovars would be traveling visa-free within 3 months if he were elected.

Vetëvendosje (VV) also presented its priorities for government on Wednesday.

The party’s candidate for prime minister, Albin Kurti, said that they want to open a new page for the country with a new government. The first steps, he said, would be dedicated to reducing spending and ministerial posts. Among other things, he said that “the Kurti government will not allow the extortion of public money and the violation of hope, or demands and labor of the citizens.”

As of Friday afternoon, LDK’s full program for government had still not been unveiled.

The party’s 20 priorities, which it published on its website, include strengthening the rule of law in the fight against organized crime, more jobs and more rights for workers, education recovery, public health, environmental protection and energy development, and affordable housing for young couples.

Last week, prime ministerial candidate Vjosa Osmani outlined the Democratic League of Kosovo’s (LDK) five main pillars — governance and the rule of law, family, employment, education and health, and international partnerships — saying that the full program would be published in the coming days. However, as of Friday afternoon, LDK’s full program for government had still not been unveiled.

Democratic Party of Kosovo’s (PDK) leader and prime ministerial candidate, Kadri Veseli, last week also promised to publish his party’s 25-point anti-corruption plan in the following days. However, that also remained unpublished as of Friday afternoon.

Veseli did unveil new economic promises, however. In a meeting on Friday with representatives of the Chambers of Commerce and business representatives, Veseli promised that they would not be charged with any new taxes in the next government, saying that there would be concrete initiatives in the entrepreneurship sector.

2. LDK and VV relations are still a little tense

The relationship between LDK and VV has been somewhat strained since the two parties failed to agree a much-anticipated pre-election coalition over the issue of who would head the ticket. This week, the two parties exchanged barbs over a comment Kurti made at a meeting with citizens in Podujeva.

Amongst other things, the VV leader promised deep reforms in justice and economic development, saying that when he comes to the helm of the government, VV will make reforms in the judiciary and implement vetting. He also said that former prosecutor Elez Blakaj — who fled to America last year after receiving threats and alleging political interference in the judiciary — would be returned to the country.

“We will return Prosecutor Blakaj to Kosovo,” Kurti  was reported to have said, adding: “We will make him chief state prosecutor and no one will dare to threaten him.”

But in one of her meetings, LDK’s Osmani said that a political party promising to install a chief prosecutor, besides being unconstitutional, would be dangerous. She said the idea showed “Pronto” logic, referring to the corruption scandals that have dogged previous administrations and that have been heavily criticized by Kurti and his party.

Former VV MP Albulena Haxhiu reacted to Osmani, saying that no respect would be gained by misquoting Kurti and claiming he had not said what the LDK PM candidate was claiming.

Speaking on Television 7’s “Pressing” debate show, Kurti later sought to clarify his statement about Blakaj. 

“I said that we would return Elez Blakaj as a symbol,” Kurti said. “Blakaj is a symbol of trauma.”

Meanwhile, Blakaj himself sent a message to Kosovo’s political parties from the U.S. saying that all they must do for justice is to not continue doing what they have done to date and to show political willingness for vetting by independent international experts.

3. Elections are an expensive business

Millions of euros are spent by political parties on campaigning during elections.

According to the legislation in force, each political entity is obliged to declare expenses incurred during the official 10-day campaign, reports KTV, but there have been suggestions that the legislation in force does not adequately cover the period before the official campaign period begins.

Florent Spahija, from the Democratic Institute of Kosovo, said this week that although parties say their election expenses are financed by external donations, their post-campaign financial statements do not match up.

Research carried out by the NGOs Democracy Plus and Çohu estimated that during the 2017 early election campaign, political parties spent over 3 million euros.

There have long been complaints about the lack of transparency when it comes to funding of political parties, with monitoring reports pointing to poor oversight and an avoidance by parties to declare the sources of their funding, despite legal requirements to do so.

Isuf Zejna from Democracy Plus recently told Radio Free Europe:

“The field of financing of political parties is not a problem that only follows Kosovo. In all countries of the region and in all transition countries there are problems with financing of political parties because donors intend to donate to political parties then be rewarded with public contracts or concessions on licenses and other favors.” 

He added that public disclosure of finances wasn’t in the interest of either donors or political parties. Zejna also highlighted the oversight role of the Central Election Commission, which he accused of not issuing fines to any major parties for their lack of financial transparency, despite their continued flaunting of the law.

4. Pre-elections is a good time to get a job

Announcements of vacancies for new job positions in public institutions during elections remains a phenomenon in Kosovo, raising suspicions that those in power are attempting to exploit their positions to employ party supporters ahead of the elections.

Many central and local institutions have announced vacancies in recent days and weeks as electoral activities have intensified. The websites of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Infrastructure, the Ministry of Diaspora, the Ministry of Public Administration and the Ministry of Trade and Industry have all shown open vacancies.

These ministries are led by parties that have been part of the outgoing governing coalition, but the Municipalities of Prishtina, Podujeva and Prizren — all led by parties who are in opposition at the central level — also have open calls for job positions.

5. The number of indicted deputy candidates is still growing

The Basic Prosecution in Prishtina this week indicted a former member of the Kosovo Assembly and current candidate.

Liburn Aliu, who is once again standing on VV’s list for the October 6 election, is charged with the offense of “obstructing an official person in the performing of official duties.”

The indictment against him alleges that Aliu removed 40 official deputies’ voting cards in the Kosovo Assembly chamber on March 21, 2018. Aliu was one of a number of VV deputies detained by police that day as the party attempted to block the passing of a controversial border demarcation deal with Montenegro.

Aliu believes that this week’s indictment against him is political and said he only heard about it from the media, since he had not initially received any documentation. He said he sees his actions last year as political, as they were part of opposing an agreement considered by his party to be detrimental to Kosovo.K

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.