Rallies, intimidation and going it alone.
After weeks of build up, pre-election fever has entered its crescendo phase as official campaigning finally got underway this week.
With just over a week to go until polling day, it’s hard to escape election talk as the airwaves and social media platforms seem to contain little else.
This time next week, everyone will be given a little respite as the mandatory 24-hour pre-election media silence period kicks in.
But until then, we’re here to help you through the noise with our summary of five big election stories this week.
1. Everyone loves a big rally
Wednesday (September 25) saw all political parties officially launch their 10-day election campaigns.
The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) launched its campaign with a rally in Prishtina’s Ibrahim Rugova square, which is named after the party’s former leader and historical symbol.
LDK candidate for prime minister, Vjosa Osmani, stated that if she wins the elections, “she will open the doors closed to Kosovo.”
“The LDK-led government will break through the isolation we have because of the stubborn and wrongdoing politicians,” she said.
On the same day as the campaign kicked off, LDK also published its program for government; the program builds on five main pillars — Governance and Rule of Law, Family, Development, Education and Health, and International Partnerships — that Osmani had previously announced a fortnight ago.
Kadri Veseli launched the Democratic Party of Kosovo’s (PDK) campaign in his birthplace of Mitrovica, which has been one of the focal points of the years of dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.
“I have chosen Mitrovica to convey clearly and strongly the message of Kosovo and PDK that Kosovo is only good when Mitrovica is good,” said the party leader and its prime ministerial candidate in this election. “I am here to take the first step toward October 6.”
Despite PDK’s big promises about being the only party that can tackle corruption and its polished marketing campaigns, it has still yet to publish a program for government.
“You know it's the last moment to save the country from greedy, ignorant politicians who have impoverished us.”
Vetëvendosje (VV) also chose to kick off its election campaign in the northerly city, with its leader and prime ministerial candidate, Albin Kurti, saying that the day had come for a change in the country.
Speaking at a rally in Mitrovica’s Minatori sports hall, Kurti said that “after October 6 a new sun will arise over Kosovo and for Mitrovica.”
“Deep in your hearts, you came not only for the [VV] Movement and me, but for yourself and your children,” Kurti said. “You know it’s the last moment to save the country from greedy, ignorant politicians who have impoverished us.”
VV also doubled its originally published list of 20 priorities this week, placing education at the top of its new list of 40 focal points.
The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and Social Democratic Party of Kosovo (PSD) coalition picked Suhareka for its election campaign launch event, with AAK vice president Blerim Kuçi saying that October 6 will be a referendum for the state of Kosovo.
“Haradinaj told me when we are not there, bad things happen for Kosovo.”
He said a vote for the AAK-PSD coalition and for prime ministerial candidate Ramush Haradinaj is “a vote for the 21st century statesman.”
“The vote for the AAK-PSD is for a 100 percent Kosovo,” he said, echoing the coalition’s campaign slogan, which is intended to play on the 100% tax that Haradinaj’s government introduced on products imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina; Haradinaj has also previously posted the coalition’s 100 priorities for government.
PSD chairman Shpend Ahmeti said that Haradinaj himself was missing from the opening rally because he had gone to the U.S. “to make sure no bad things happen to the state.”
“He told me when we are not there, bad things happen for Kosovo,” Ahmeti said, before referring to attempts by President Hashim Thaçi and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić to introduce some sort of territory exchange between the two countries.
“The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia are there [in the U.S.] and maybe they are trying to draw a new map. You will not be voting for us, but you should know that you will be voting for Kosovo.”
Meanwhile, the NISMA, the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) and the Justice Party (PD) coalition formally launched its campaign for the October 6 elections at a rally in the capital.
Prime ministerial candidate and head of NISMA Fatmir Limaj told the rally that he was convinced his coalition would defy all expectations by securing victory..
“The best evidence is you here tonight,” he said. “With hundreds of thousands of our supporters, we are solemnly launching the electoral campaign for the October 6 election, in which this coalition will be the spectacular surprise of this election.”
2. Prime ministerial candidates aren’t all keen to debate
Although the idea of a “super-debate” among Kosovo’s prime ministerial candidates has been circulating for some time now, it now seems increasingly unlikely to happen.
This week, all five leading candidates were invited to a debate hosted by the National Youth Congress of Kosovo to discuss their ideas with young people. However, only VV’s Kurti and Fatmir Limaj from the NISMA-AKR-PD coalition accepted the invitation. AAK-PSD coalition justified Haradinaj’s absence with his trip to the U.S., LDK blamed Osmani’s busy agenda, while PDK offered no explanation for Veseli’s no-show.
Kurti, used the opportunity to discuss parts of his party’s program, while criticizing past governments for investing in road building rather than education. He said that there have been more than 10 years in which the budget for asphalt was larger than the budget for the University of Prishtina, while insisting that with him as prime minister the education sector would be the most important.
Kurti was also asked about his attitude toward the symbols of Kosovo, such as the flag and anthem, since in the past he has rejected them and insisted upon using the Albanian national symbols. He answered that as prime minister he would no longer be just a VV deputy so he would respect Kosovo’s state symbols.
While referring to the asphalt criticism, Limaj said that he is proud of the work done as part of two governments, having served as deputy prime minister in the outgoing administration and previously as minister of transport in 2008-10 while he was still part of PDK.
Asked about his party’s record on education, a ministry that has been headed by his party since 2017, Limaj said that reforms in this sector cannot be made without being prioritized by the head of government.
3. Being a Serb opposition candidate can be an intimidating business
Srpska Lista (Serb List), which held nine of the 10 seats reserved for Serbs in the Kosovo Assembly during the last mandate, has this week been accused of blackmail and exerting undue pressure on activists from other Serb parties in Kosovo.
In a pre-election debate organized by the Media Center in Čaglavica, Nenad Rašić of the Sloboda (Freedom) coalition, Slobodan Petrović of the Independent Liberal Party, and Aleksandar Jablanović of the Kosovo Serb Party accused the Serb List of brutal pressure on Kosovo Serbs. This debate was not attended by Serb List leader Goran Rakić.
“The aggressiveness has grown and become more brutal,” Rašić said. “The [wife] of one of our party activists has been searched in detail, interrogated, told that her contract expires in October. This has been the case since the establishment of Serb List in 2013. Election results are secondary since the security of the citizens is above all, under such circumstances.”
Similar complaints of intimidation among Serb parties have marred previous election campaigns.
In another interview, Rašić said that he could not deny the suggestion that his life may be at risk because of the pressure and blackmail from Serb List and from Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić, who openly backs Serb List. The Sloboda coalition has also reportedly taken the decision not to post pictures of campaigning activities on its social media pages in an attempt to protect its supporters from receiving threats.
The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms responded to Rašić’s comments about being threatened by Belgrade by demanding that the State Prosecutor launch official investigations to help ensure the safety of Rašić and other Serbs who have found themselves on the verbal lynching list.
Meanwhile, the State Prosecutor’s Office is reported to already be dealing with the concerns of Kosovo Serb opposition politicians. However, Rašić believes that institutions’ reactions to the issue have been slow.
Similar complaints of intimidation among Serb parties have marred previous election campaigns, while last year the leader of the SDP Citizens’ Initiative, Oliver Ivanović, was murdered outside his party’s offices.
Meanwhile, the vice president of Serb List, Milan Radoičić, is wanted for questioning by Kosovo’s Prosecution in relation to the murder of Ivanović, whose party surprised many earlier this month by deciding to run alongside Serb List in these elections.
4. Ballot boxes need police protection
Extra measures are being undertaken by the Central Election Commission (CEC) in an attempt to ensure the integrity of the election process after a video circulated on social media that was said to show a diaspora voter filling out dozens of ballot papers.
At a meeting of the CEC this week, it was agreed that all voting material from the diaspora would be kept under police surveillance.
“It should be clear for the [CEC] secretariat that no deliveries can be made without the police and party observers, following a public video,” said PDK member of the CEC, Ilir Gashi, who proposed the extra security. “This institution will accept ballots that are in accordance with the laws and regulations in force.”
The deadline for receiving ballots from diaspora voters is Saturday, October 5.
The CEC also announced that more than 2,700 election observers from NGOs and the media have already been certified, while there will also be international observation missions.
Meanwhile, representatives of the rule of law structures in Kosovo have pledged full mobilization to help guarantee the integrity of the October 6 elections.
The State Prosecutor’s Office announced this week that 100 prosecutors nationwide would be engaged on election day, while the director of operations at Kosovo Police, Afrim Ahmeti, said that the police would be appointing monitoring teams to all municipalities in Kosovo, in order to provide security at all polling stations until ballot boxes are delivered for counting.
5. You don’t need a party to stand for election
It emerged this week that there is one independent candidate running for office in the upcoming elections.
Esmir Kasi says that Kosovo’s poor conditions, particularly amongst the Bosniak community that he is part of, has motivated him to attempt to get elected as a deputy so that he can try to make a small difference.
“It’s wrong when politicians say ‘We don’t create jobs’ — politics does exactly that.”
The 29-year-old lawyer from Prizren says if he manages to get into parliament he will work with Albanians to change the situation in Kosovo.
“Unfortunately, there was war in 1999 and many people fled, but 20 years later, young people are fleeing because of poor conditions,” he told KTV. “Twenty years later, Bosniaks and Albanians are leaving because basic living conditions do not exist. I will try to change this situation a little bit.”
Kasi is particularly concerned about problems in education and health care, and he also points out that other parties have not worked hard enough to keep young people in Kosovo and says politicians should be ensuring the conditions for job creation so that citizens don’t feel forced to leave.
“It’s wrong when politicians say ‘We don’t create jobs’ — politics does exactly that,” he said. “For this reason, I have entered the political scene and I will work together with our Albanian brothers to take the state to another level, because the Republic of Kosovo is our homeland.”K
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.