Lately | Elections 2019

Elections: 5 things we’ve learnt this week

By - 06.09.2019

Our weekly roundup of election news.

With a month to go until Kosovars head to the ballot boxes to decide who will lead them for the next four years, political parties are rolling up their sleeves and investing all their energy, as well as their human and material resources, to achieve victory.

The pre-election coalitions are set and the prime ministerial candidates decided, while the outgoing government are following the traditional pattern of using their last days in office to boost their re-election chances.

There may be scant little detail on any policy initiatives to date, but that doesn’t mean that nothing has been going on — far from it, words have been flowing freely, political transfers have continued and candidates have been scrambling around to ensure they’re on their party’s list of candidates. 

K2.0 has once again been following all the developments closely in order to bring you our weekly pre-election breakdown of five things we’ve learnt this week.

1. Being prime minister matters most

After last week was dominated by the “Will they? Won’t they?” surrounding a much anticipated coalition between the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Vetëvendosje (VV), this week we knew the answer for sure — they won’t.

The Central Election Commission’s (CEC) deadline for registering pre-election coalitions of midnight on Friday came and went, with the two main opposition parties failing to put aside their differences over who would be their prime ministerial candidate if they teamed up. 

Justifying his party’s decision to reject a last minute offer by VV leader Albin Kurti to have a joint list of candidates and the most voted for candidate on the list becoming the PM, Isa Mustafa said that Kurti’s proposal risked turning the election into a race between the very partners of this potential coalition, adding that this would seriously damage their common interests.

Mustafa further added that a list with no nominated leader would be a headless list with no clear orientation. 

As soon as it became clear that a coalition wouldn’t be reached, VV deputy Sami Kurteshi revived old allegations against LDK and Mustafa, from his time as prime minister.

For his part, speaking a few days after the failure to secure a coalition, Mustafa said they had been close. “We didn’t have big differences in terms of program, size of government, the number of ministers [or] deputy prime ministers,” he said. “The problem finally arose with regard to the prime minister candidate.” 

2. Candidate lists are a competitive business

In the past few days, just about every politician has been preoccupied with whether or not they will be included in their respective list of deputy candidates.

The deadline for submitting the lists of candidates to the CEC is Friday, September 6, at midnight.

Political parties have been busy preparing their lists of candidates, through which they aim to win seats in the Kosovo Assembly, while the media has been occupied by reporting official and unofficial news about who’s in and who’s out.

So far, VV appears to be the only major party to have completed its list of candidates, although its final list has not yet been made public. Various names have still been rumored to have been left off the list, including former deputies Sami Kurteshi and Xhelal Sveçla.

One of the biggest surprises regarding the lists of candidates took place this week among Kosovo’s Serb parties.

Many of the party’s nominees have been nominated openly by its local branches, while the rest were filled during Thursday’s General Council meeting, at which Kurti was also officially nominated as VV’s candidate for prime minister.

The other parties, who have stated that they are close to finishing their lists, have been more closed and reluctant to indicate which candidates they will ultimately include. Even though the choice of 100 candidates may seem like a lot, places quickly become filled up when parties try to accommodate their different factions and interest groups.

It remains to be seen whether the parties will abide by their pledges not to include those with indictments in their lists.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest surprises regarding the lists of candidates took place this week among Kosovo’s Serb parties.

At a time when Srpska Lista (Serb List) Vice President Milan Radoičić is being sought by authorities in Kosovo for his involvment in the January 2018 murder of SDP Citizen’s Initiative leader Oliver Ivanović, the current leaders of the latter’s party have decided to field candidates together with Serb List. Ivanovic’s former party announced this week that it will run on a joint list with the Belgrade-backed Serb List in the October 6 elections, causing a number of its leading members to resign in disgust.

3. Political point scoring trumps policy pledges

With election day approaching, TV debates between politicians, and between politicians and analysts, have been really heating up, although actual policy announcements remain at a premium.

On Monday night, one of the latest recruits to VV, Taulant Kryeziu, went head to head in a TV debate with former VV secretary and current member of the leadership team in the Social Democratic Party of Kosovo (PSD) Dardan Molliqaj; both made strong accusations of each other’s parties “stealing mandates” and “collaborating” with PDK.

Molliqaj said that VV has only recruited people who have been in PDK in the past and have failed to become part of their leadership structure, referring to — among others — Kryeziu, who has previously been an advisor for two PDK ministers. Molliqaj went on to accuse VV of corruption, while Kryeziu accused Molliqaj and PSD of betraying the principles for which they had strived during their time in VV.

According to Gjinovci, Adem Grabovci is “the chief captor of the state of Kosovo.”

The PSD nucleus, of course, consists of former senior VV officials, who broke away in the winter of 2018. The acrimonious nature of the split has meant that the two sides have never failed to miss an opportunity to snipe at each other since, but this is the first time they are coming face to face in a general election.

Meanwhile, in a TV debate on T7 channel, civil society activist Rron Gjinovci asked PDK vice presidents Memli Krasniqi and Uran Ismaili how they hoped to fight the capture of the state — the central plank of PDK’s campaigning — when disgraced former parliamentary group head Adem Grabovci is in the party’s Steering Council. According to Gjinovci, Adem Grabovci is “the chief captor of the state of Kosovo.”

When Krasniqi and Ismaili would not respond to his questions, Gjinovci walked out of the studio mid-discussion in protest.

Away from TV studios, political leaders also weren’t holding back from attacking one another from a distance. 

PDK leader Kadri Veseli said that Kosovo needs a prime minister who doesn’t endanger the country’s relations with its international allies, clearly referring to outgoing Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and his internationally criticized tax on Serbian products. He further added that Kosovo doesn’t deserve a prime minister who doesn’t recognize the symbols and institutions of the state, referring to Kurti.

In a TV debate, Kurti described PSD as “snow from yesteryear,” while Haradinaj has continuously said that some leaders are servile, apparently referring to Veseli and his relationship with Kosovo’s international partners.

4. Cleaning the voter lists doesn’t make them shorter

A long-standing issue with election processes in Kosovo is the headache around who is registered to vote. 

Each election season, the number of people registered to vote significantly outnumbers the number of people of voting age in Kosovo. Even when accounting for those in the diaspora who register to vote, the numbers still don’t add up, leading to repeated warnings that the lists are susceptible to fraud and need cleaning up.

According to the CEC, this time the lists will be cleaner. It said this week that 33,791 names have been removed from the voters’ list because they are people who are deceased or who no longer have Kosovar citizenship.

That still leaves 1,972,466 people with the right to vote in the upcoming snap parliamentary election, a significantly higher number than the number of people registered to vote two years ago. 

The chief executive of the CEC’s Secretariat, Enis Halimi, said that compared to the voters’ list in the 2017 local elections, the preliminary voters’ list for the upcoming election includes an additional 81,000 voters. 

Halimi said that applications for registering to vote from abroad have been open since August 30, and that to date the CEC has received 4,977 applications, which are currently being reviewed. The application period for registration of voters abroad will end on September 10.

5. The political transfer window remains firmly open

Like every election, especially national elections, this one has been characterized by a weird phenomenon — the unstoppable scramble of civil society figures and experts from different fields to join political parties.

PDK this week secured one of the biggest “transfers” of this “market,” with former rock star Migjen Kelmendi, who is also a renowned political analyst and the owner of a national television channel, joining the party.

PDK also welcomed aboard: former Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) Minister of Justice Jonuz Salihaj; champion of “World Well Fitness” Geta Beqa; oncology specialist Arben Bislimi; professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies Besa Ismaili; Dr. Faik Spahiu; expert in economics, accounting and auditing Lulzim Berisha; and lecturer in the University of Prishtina’s Faculty of Engineering Riad Ramadani; as well as eight assistant profesors from different fields — Donjeta Morina, Besfort Ahmeti, Edona Draga, Shkëlqesa Smajli, Fisnik Morina, Zijad Šabotić, Elvis Elezaj and Valdrin Misiri.

PSD secured itself a high profile coup, even though, like LDK, they have not made other reinforcements in recent weeks.

VV has secured the most new recruits to date. This week they were joined by journalist Mefail Bajqinovci; finance expert with international experience Vlora Vula-Gojani; writer and journalist; Bajram Sefaj; professor of computer science at Riinvest University in Prishtina Astrit Rexhepi; bio medicine graduate Adriana Veseli; lecturer at the University of Prishtina and UBT Mufail Salihaj; finance expert Arijeta Selimi; historian Mrika Limani-Myrtaj; official at the German Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in Prishtina Mevlyde Hyseni; economist and psychologist Liridon Aliu; history professor Skender Ferati; doctor of food science Mërgim Destani; stomatologist Flutra Gjini-Mestani; and economic and finance expert Mentor Hyseni.

PSD secured itself a high profile coup, even though, like LDK, they have not made other reinforcements in recent weeks. This week it was announced that NISMA’s former minister of education in the last government, Shyqri Bytyqi, had joined their ranks. 

PSD’s pre-election coalition partner, Haradinaj’s AAK, welcomed international law professor Afrim Hoti; political science and law graduate from France Labinot Bislimi; doctor of technical science Malush Mjaku; and associate professor and member of the senate at the University of Prishtina Naser Pajaziti.

Meanwhile, the former director of Post and Telecom of Kosovo, Gent Bekolli, left AAK to join Behgjet Pacolli’s New Kosovo Alliance (AKR).

NISMA welcomed the head of the Association of Entrepreneurs and Craftsmen of Prizren, Afrim Tejeci; political science professor Enver Sopjani; and Dr. Agrim Krasniqi.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.