Testosterone, criminal candidates and big speeches.
Although the official election campaign still doesn’t officially get underway for almost another two weeks, all of Kosovo’s political parties are well and truly in election mode.
Rallies are taking place around the country, social media posts require an extra level of filtering to detect the (rarely subtle) political undertones and everyone seems to fancy themselves as a comedian by posting the latest election-based meme.
If much of the noise seems to lack something of substance, behind the scenes the procedural cogs continue to turn as one by one the official deadlines set by the Central Election Commission (CEC) arrive, and with them a new piece of the electoral jigsaw is put into place.
Keeping up to date with all the daily goings on can be an exhausting process, so each week leading up to voting day we’re doing the hard work for you.
Here’s what we’ve learnt this week.
1. Criminal indictments don’t have to be a political barrier
Plenty of promises have been made in the past few weeks by parties saying they won’t have indicted candidates on their list of deputy candidates after strong criticism of this phenomenon in the past. But following last Friday’s deadline for parties to submit their candidate lists to the CEC, it’s clear that some parties have already broken an election promise weeks before any voting takes place.
The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) has focused its pre-election campaigning strongly on being the only party that can defeat the scourges of corruption and nepotism, while leader Kadri Veseli has for months been trying to present himself as taking a tough party line on this issue.
PDK’s list of deputy candidates does indeed appear to include no candidates with indictments for corruption or abuse of office, although prominent candidates on its list have been indicted for other offences.
Former President of the Assembly Xhavit Haliti has been charged in connection with a physical clash in the Assembly last year, while Mërgim Lushtaku is facing charges in relation to a case in which his father, former Mayor of Skenderaj Sami Lushtaku, escaped from custody during a hospital visit. Also on PDK’s list is Rrustem Mustafa — an adviser to former PDK leader President Hashim Thaçi — who was convicted of war crimes in 2013.
But PDK is far from alone in including individuals with indictments in its list of candidates.
Initially, Veseli seemed to have been promising not to include any deputies with indictments against their name, however he appears to have revised this in recent days to exclude only those “with an indictment for corruption, nepotism or abuse of office.”
But PDK is far from alone in including individuals with indictments in its list of candidates.
The Kosovo Law Institute has said that the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and Social Democratic Party of Kosovo (PSD) have 14 individuals with indictments on their coalition’s list, including the acting Minister of Infrastructure Pal Lekaj, who was indicted last year for corruption while mayor of Gjakova, and acting Defense Minister Rrustem Berisha, who is one of 12 individuals facing charges over inflating the list of war veterans.
Vetëvendosje’s (VV) list includes five candidates with indictments, NISMA and New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) have three indicted candidates on their joint list and Lista Srpska’s list includes former Minister of Local Government Ivan Todosijevic, who has been indicted for inciting hatred during his time in office.
The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) initially included Haki Raqi, who was convicted of corruption while serving as an official in the Municipality of Obiliq, but they have since replaced Raqi on their list.
2. Testosterone levels do little for quality of debate
PSD deputy Dardan Molliqaj and VV deputy candidate Haki Abazi were strongly condemned by women’s rights activists this week for sexism and misogyny after their debate on T7 descended into farce.
Molliqaj was VV’s secretary until last year, when he was one of the central figures in a breakaway group that went onto become PSD, and the acrimonious nature of that split is far from forgotten by either party.
At one point in Wednesday’s debate, Molliqaj said: “Since Hakia has started to mention me so often, I’m afraid that he’ll dream about me tonight,” to which Abazi responded: “The good thing is that I never see you in my dreams. Even your wife doesn’t see you in her dreams.”
This was followed by Abazi telling Molliqaj not to call him “Hakia,” because it’s the female version of the name Haki, to which Molliqaj told him: “But you look a bit like a woman.”
“I came back and watched as Haki Abazi slammed on the floor."
The personalized nature of the discourse — at the expense of any substantive discussion on policy — was further accentuated after the televised debate finished, with reports that the two men were involved in a physical altercation as they left the studio.
Leonard Kerquki, the debate’s moderator, wrote on his Facebook how he was preparing for the second half of his show when he suddenly heard a loud noise in the studio.
“I came back and watched as Haki Abazi slammed on the floor. I hurried down the corridor and was able to see Dardan Molliqaj as he entered the elevator,” he wrote. “Abazi told me he was physically assaulted by Molliqaj and his companion.”
After the incident, Kosovo Police were called to the AAB campus in Fushë Kosovë where T7 is holding its election debates. They later issued a statement saying that an attack had taken place, the victim had received minor injuries and the case had been passed to the Prosecutor.
Following the incident, Abazi stated that he had been in the hallway outside the studio after the debate and Molliqaj had approached threateningly, grabbed his arms and started a physical altercation.
Molliqaj though has denied this version of events, saying that there was only a verbal confrontation between the two of them, and labelling Abazi’s reaction as “a complaint and a lament.”
On Thursday, Democracy in Action, a coalition of NGOs aiming to promote free elections, issued a statement condemning the debate and the alleged incident that followed.
“DiA calls candidates from political parties running for the October 6 elections to refrain from denigrating and sexist language, verbal and physical assaults,” it said. “Political parties and their candidates must cultivate the core values of democracy by demonstrating maturity and professionalism in debates and allowing the competitiveness of ideas and platforms.”
3. Institutional officials have other things on their minds
Although the official election campaign isn’t yet underway, that hasn’t stopped officials at various levels downing tools and heading out on party campaign duties.
Most notable was the outgoing Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s decision to cancel his attendance at a summit in the Czech Republic, citing his busy political schedule ahead of the elections. Instead of heading to Prague with his counterparts from around the region, Haradinaj reportedly went to Prizren instead to try and recruit new members to his party.
It’s a similar story throughout administrative offices, with civil society organizations this week complaining that the politicization of institutions means that employees simply aren’t turning up because they’re out fulfilling political party roles.
The director of Çohu, Arton Demhasaj, told Radio Free Europe that this was particularly evident at the municipal level, which he said was “100 percent politicized.” “The negative effect can be observed in municipalities because politicization is extreme there,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Tax Administration of Kosovo (TAK) announced that its staff had been told it had to choose between working in TAK and political party posts.
After a new Law on Public Officials came into force this week prohibiting senior public officials from holding leading roles in political parties, PDK deputy candidate Shaqir Totaj announced that he was leaving TAK in order to focus on his political career. Totaj had been regional manager of TAK in Prizren, while simultaneously serving as a member of PDK’s governing council and heading the party’s Prizren branch.
4. Diaspora members aren’t just for summer…
More than 15,000 members of the diaspora are reported to have registered to vote in the upcoming election, three times more than the number of diaspora voters in the last election in 2017.
The deadline for diaspora voters to apply to vote was September 10, which concluded a 12-day registration window. However the final number of people applying to vote from the diaspora has yet to be confirmed, with the CEC saying that it is going through the process of assessing the validity of all applications and that it will release a report in the coming days.
Those whose applications are approved must prepare their ballot packet and send it to the CEC by post between September 18 and October 4.
As in previous years, there have been complaints about the process for diaspora members wanting to vote, particularly around a lack of information, the complexity of the process and the lack of options for voters to cast their ballot in embassies or diplomatic missions.
“The current way of voting for the diaspora is more a hindrance than engaging them.”
Liza Gashi, director of Germin, an NGO working with Kosovo diaspora issues, told Zëri that her organization has asked the CEC to eliminate problems identified in the 2017 elections such as the blocking of emails. She also emphasized that there are again delays with more detailed information for Kosovar citizens living in the diaspora.
VV, which traditionally does particularly well with diaspora voters, has also complained about the process, saying that the current measures in place for members of the diaspora to vote is an obstacle to their involvement in the electoral process.
“The current way of voting for the diaspora is more a hindrance than engaging them,” Adnan Rrustemi, VV’s member of the CEC, said earlier this week. “And this is done by the government among other things, because VV has massive support [from the diaspora]. In the absence of voting in embassies and consulates, compatriots have to go through complicated registration and voting procedures.”
Head of the CEC, Valdete Daka, had earlier admitted that the processes were not ideal, but said her organization should not be blamed for the short timescales imposed by the propensity for Kosovo to have extraordinary elections.
“It should be noted that voting procedures outside Kosovo are legally complicated as required by law, but we cannot circumvent these procedures as we would now have objections from political entities,” she told Radio Free Europe. “The deadlines are extremely short, the procedures are complicated and this is one that we cannot change despite the desire.”
5. Prime ministerial candidates love a big speech
With the week once again dominated by personal attacks and mudslinging, voters are still virtually none-the-wiser as to what policies the various political parties stand for.
None of the major parties have yet published a political program, although a few more hints have been dropped this week as to the sort of focus that can be expected from each.
During a debate this week at Riinvest College, LDK prime ministerial candidate Vjosa Osmani announced that her party had completed drawing up its party program, which would be published in the coming days. She said it would be centered around five key pillars: Governance and Administration, Family, Education, Health, and International Partnerships.
Other prime ministerial candidates — who were all confirmed this week with no surprises — have been giving speeches.
Kadri Veseli suggested PDK stands for an uncompromising fight against corruption, a strong economy and an alliance with states that are friendly with Kosovo.
In a speech this week after he officially received VV’s nomination, Kurti urged people to come together “for a great victory” and urged activists to speak to everyone they could, wherever they were.
“Help me win by a big margin so that change is big and victory is massive,” he said. “Help me liberate the state from capture. Help me fight inequality, nepotism, corruption and organized crime. Help me build a future where everyone wants to live in peace, security and dignity.”
PDK’s leader Kadri Veseli — confirmed this week as a first-time prime ministerial candidate — told a rally in Prishtina that only PDK can provide the clear direction that Kosovo needs. He suggested PDK stands for an uncompromising fight against corruption, a strong economy and an alliance with states that are friendly with Kosovo.
Veseli said that PDK will win to prevent others from failing Kosovo and “to show everyone that this country has hope, that Kosovo is the faith and our lives, that Kosovo’s men and women are capable of developing their country.”
Incumbent Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, confirmed as the AAK-PSD coalition’s prime ministerial candidate, gave a speech in which he talked about efforts to divide Kosovo and said that he and his associates have always defended it.
“We have always protected the doorstep and will protect it,” he said. “Our Kosovo, with its army, police, judiciary, institutions, is safer today, but the people of Kosovo are homeowners of their own homes.”K
In the absence of serious discussion of issues and policy, K2.0 is encouraging citizens to use the hashtag #PoDuMeDitë on social media and tag political candidates, telling them what issues and solutions they want to hear about.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.