Lately | Elections 2019

Elections: 5 things we learned this week

By - 30.08.2019

Cutting through the pre-election noise.

Kosovo is gearing up for early elections, following the resignation of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in July and the subsequent dissolution of the Assembly on August 22. 

Even before the early elections were formally announced, the political parties had already started with their unofficial pre-election campaigns. Now, the parties have begun to mobilize in earnest, dropping hints on their programs, meeting activists in the field, announcing their prime ministerial candidates, and wheeling out big statements. 

The media has also started with the usual formats of debates with analysts, while various members of civil society and different professions have begun joining the political parties.

Pre-election time is always a dynamic period with continuous developments — sometimes surprises, sometimes monotonous repetitions, sometimes genuinely unusual, often distinctly similar to previous election cycles.

Amongst this vortex, K2.0 will be keeping you up to date with the latest happenings. For the next five weeks until election day, we’ll be following the various campaigns, controversies, promises and programs to bring you a weekly wrap up of the big things we’ve learned each week. 

So, let’s get started.

1. The countdown to elections has officially started

Firstly, a bit of procedural business.

On Monday (August 26) President Hashim Thaçi announced that the date of the early elections would be Sunday, October 6, having formally decreed the dissolution of the Kosovo Assembly. 

In practice, this choice of election date had been widely rumored in advance, with the president having a maximum of 45 days from the Assembly’s dissolution to call the vote. October 6 represents the latest end of that timescale, with the formal 10-day campaign set to begin on September 25.

In announcing the date, the head of state instructed the Central Election Commission (CEC) to start with its formal preparations for the early elections.

The CEC has in turn announced some of the practical timescales for the campaign. 

Most notable for now is the deadline for announcing pre-election coalitions, which is Friday (August 30). 

2. Popularity ‘is queen’ when it comes to elections

On the same day that President Thaçi decreed the early election date, during a meeting of its leadership, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) nominated Vjosa Osmani as its candidate for the position of prime minister..

The news of Osmani’s nomination as the party’s candidate for the position of prime minister was announced by party leader and former Prime Minister Isa Mustafa.

Osmani, the first woman to be nominated prime ministerial candidate by a major party in Kosovo since 2010, has proved a popular figure with the electorate in the past but has often been at odds with the LDK party leadership. 

She was a fierce critic of LDK’s decision to form a coalition government with the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) in 2014, and ahead of the last election, in 2017, her party’s coalition named her at number 81 on the list of candidates. Despite her lowly position she secured more than 60,000 votes, the second-highest within her party, with only then prime ministerial candidate Avdullah Hoti picking up more.

3. Forming pre-elections coalitions isn’t always easy

With the deadline for announcing pre-election coalitions fast approaching, we will soon know which parties have officially agreed to head into the elections together. 

Some unions, however, have already been announced. 

The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) — the party of outgoing Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj — will be teaming up with current Mayor of Prishtina Shpend Ahmeti’s Social Democratic Party of Kosovo (PSD). Outgoing coalition government parties NISMA and the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) have also announced a pre-election pact.

On Wednesday (August 28), representatives of several small Serb parties signed a coalition in Gračanica in an attempt to counter the electoral dominance of Srpska Lista (Serb List), which once again has the open support of Belgrade; the signatories of the coalition are Nenad Rasic (PDS), Rada Trajkovic (EPS), Dragisa Miric (NPK), Slavisa Petkovic and Branislav Markovic.

But most of the speculation for months has been around a potential coalition between opposition parties LDK and Vetëvendosje (VV), with negotiations between the two intensifying in recent days.

A few minutes after LDK held its press conference to announce that Vjosa Osmani would be their candidate for prime minister, media reported that a meeting was being held between the leaderships of LDK and VV. A few hours later, it was reported that the president of NISMA, Fatmir Limaj had also been present at the meeting.

Following the meeting, VV’s vice-president, Besnik Bislimi, said that they had agreed with LDK senior officials that “the coming government needs to have freeing the state from the capture of the Pronto Clan [a reference to corruption scandals, largely involving PDK] by fighting organized crime and corruption as a priority.” But he stopped short of saying that a coalition had been agreed.

As of Friday afternoon, no coalition had been confirmed and Mustafa gave a press conference saying a pre-election coalition was now looking unlikely.

The vice-president of LDK, Lutfi Haziri, who has been announced as the leader of LDK’s campaign, declared that LDK is open for cooperation and a coalition with VV, but that it would only accept Vjosa Osmani as candidate for prime minister.

This point could well prove the stumbling block between the two parties. VV reacted that they are also unable to compromise on the position of prime minister, with the party insisting that its leader, Albin Kurti, should be the candidate. Furthermore, VV deputy Xhelal Sveçla said the announcement of Osmani’s nomination as prime minister — while negotiations between the parties were ongoing — was a “sneaky action.”

On Thursday, it was reported that Mustafa and Kurti had met once again. But as of Friday afternoon, no coalition had been confirmed and Mustafa gave a press conference saying a pre-election coalition was now looking unlikely because of disagreement over who should be the prime ministerial candidate.

Following that statement, through an open letter to Mustafa published on his Facebook page, Kurti responded by proposing a formula: The parties would run on a joint list but without a candidate for prime minister and the deputy who received the most votes would be the coalition’s prime ministerial candidate. 

Kurti presented it as a compromise, stating that Osmani could be listed top of the joint list, although it will not have escaped his attention that in 2017 he personally received more than twice as many votes as the LDK nominee and almost 30,000 more than his nearest rival.

In 2017, the PAN coalition between PDK, AAK and NISMA was registered with the CEC just minutes before the deadline. Will we see similar late drama this time around?

4. Personality politics is once again at play

As with every other pre-election campaign in Kosovo, this one has already brought about a series of high profile names (as well as some less well known citizens) publicly joining political parties.

PDK has welcomed Dr. Shqiptar Demaçi, son of renowned activist Adem Demaçi. Announcing the accession, Kadri Veseli, head of PDK, wrote: 

“The unification of Albanians was a lifetime ideal for Adem Demaçi, so much so that he named his son Shqiptar (Albanian). From today, Shqiptar Demaçi, the son of the symbol of our national resistance, is a member of the Democratic Party of Kosovo.”

AAK welcomed ... a number of showbiz stars such as hairdresser Kaci Lleshi and singers Aida Doçi and Adeline Berisha.

PDK also unveiled other new members, including four time kickboxing champion Yll Maliqi, activist and businessman Nexhmi Muçiqi, assistant professor at the Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences at the Ukshin Hoti University in Prizren Nol Krasniqi, renowned Kosovar actress Arta Nitaj, and Prizren dentist Urata Tahiri.

VV announced that it had signed up journalist Daut Dauti, activist and member of a Finnish municipal assembly Funda Demiri, leading civil society policy expert Taulant Kryeziu, former deputy minister of tourism in Albania and civil society activist in Kosovo Hajrulla Çeku, economic expert and political analyst Hekuran Murati, finance and banking expert Arben Gashi, and gynecologist Drita Kabashi.

AAK welcomed theologist Mustafa Bajrami, entrepreneur Granit Shala, singer and former AKR deputy Labinot Tahiri, former TV debate moderator Resul Sinani, and a number of showbiz stars such as hairdresser Kaci Lleshi and singers Aida Doçi and Adeline Berisha.

Meanwhile, NISMA brought on board doctor and former deputy mayor of the Municipality of Suhareka Refki Bytyqi and economics master’s graduate Halil Mustafa, while PSD poached VV’s most voted member of Gjilan’s municipal assembly, Xhelal Hajrullahu.

LDK seems to be comfortable with the people it already has, having made no “reinforcements” as of yet.

5. The more vague the better, for now… 

When it comes to their political programs, nothing has yet been formally revealed, but party leaders and others have already begun to wield out the promises and give an indication of what key issues they intend to focus on.

Isa Mustafa, who has held internal meetings within the LDK party as well as meetings with other parties, has been less exposed to the public and as such has had little chance to speak about concrete issues. But, Vjosa Osmani has said that an LDK-led government would focus on topics ranging from education and health, to fighting crime, corruption and state capture.

Veseli vowed that a PDK government’s main objectives would be the fight against nepotism.

PDK’s Kadri Veseli has been the most active leader when it comes to big promises. He has vowed that a PDK government’s main objectives would be the fight against nepotism, support for medium-sized businesses and innovative initiatives, as well as the development of agro-businesses. 

VV’s Albin Kurti has not given any concrete promises, but Arbërie Nagavci from VV told Radio Free Europe that the primary issues that VV would be focused on are the rule of law, the development of the state and building a socially engaged state.

Considering AAK’s slogan “Kosova 100%,” it seems Haradinaj’s party will focus on large national issues, taking pride in the decisions made during his time as prime minister, such as preventing the division of Kosovo in the face of “border correction” talk, transforming the Kosovo Security Force into an army and introducing the 100% tax on Serbian products.

AAK’s pre-election coalition partner PSD seems set to focus on social issues that preoccupy citizens, as it did when it was in opposition, although it has not yet made any concrete promises. NISMA and AKR have been similarly quiet on this front.

It seems that September will be a month of political promises, be they concrete or abstract.K

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.