Perspectives | Politics

First 100 days show Haradinaj’s power is shackled

By - 18.12.2017

Premiership characterised by unfulfilled promises and haphazard spending.

Today (Monday, Dec. 18), is the 100th day since Ramush Haradinaj began his second tenure as Kosovo’s prime minister.

The first time around, in 2005, the former KLA commander’s premiership was interrupted after just three months, due to being called to answer war crimes charges from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Supporters of his party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), have repeatedly glorified the “100 days” of Haradinaj’s government — and in each election campaign hinted that the same model of governance would be applied.

In 2005, Kosovo’s interim government did not represent an independent country and faced challenges with the lack of a final status. In 2017, almost a decade after independence, the nature of the challenges Kosovo’s citizens face have changed little. Kosovars continue to be isolated and under a strict visa regime, unemployment remains a huge and neglected issue, while above all, a highly polarized political spectrum prevents the resolution of problems.

On Sept. 18, when the governing plan for the upcoming mandate was approved, Haradinaj told his cabinet that the priorities for his 2017-21 program were “economic growth, the rule of law and Euro-atlantic integration” — a mantra repeated by all governments since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

His first 100 days have been characterised by four key issues; a failure to deliver on promises regarding visa free travel, a haphazard approach to public spending, a weak government providing power for its coalition partners and an awkward transition from member of the opposition to leader of the government.

Kosovars still require visas

Four months before he officially became prime minister, Haradinaj made a big promise in an election campaign video shared on his Facebook page. “I repeat this again today: With the new government, Kosovo’s citizens will travel without visas in Germany, Switzerland and all over Europe within 90 days.”

Haradinaj’s promise was certainly very ambitious. Primarily because even if Kosovo’s government were to achieve all of the conditions set by the EU Commission, the ultimate decision on visa liberalisation rests with Brussels, not with Kosovo’s authorities.

Photo: European Union.

As it is, Kosovo’s government has not even concluded its own part of the bargain — an epilogue was not given to the issue of border demarcation with Montenegro, which would be the first step before the EU Commision takes a decision. However, Haradinaj has not been completely inactive on the issue.

In his first day in office, the prime minister dismissed the State Commission for Border Demarcation with Montenegro, and appointed a new commission. The newly appointed members reported on Dec. 4 that errors by the former state commission would lead to Kosovo losing land if the current agreement were to be ratified.

The government subsequently took the decision to send the report, along with the original agreement reached with Montenegro in August 2015, to the Assembly for a vote, although this has yet to take place.

His reluctance to promise dates now that he is heading the executive body clearly demonstrates that while during the campaign Haradinaj was able to make extravagant promises, reality has begun to bite.

As resolving the issue of border demarcation with Montenegro remains a condition for visa liberalisation according to the European Commission, Kosovo’s government is unable to offer a date when Kosovars will be able to move freely within the Schengen Area. Last week, in a press conference, now as prime minister instead of on the campaign trail, Haradinaj appeared to have become more realistic about the steps ahead, and said he prefered not to give dates.

He acknowledged that he could not fulfill the promise that he made back in May, but has said he believes that within weeks the decision will be taken and then “two or three” more months would be needed for it to enter into force. His reluctance to promise dates now that he is heading the executive body clearly demonstrates that while during the campaign Haradinaj was able to make extravagant promises, reality has begun to bite.

In terms of other international relations issues during Ramush’s tenure, Kosovo was recognized by Madagascar, the island nation off Africa’s southeast coast becoming the 115th country to recognize the sovereignty of the state. However, in October, Kosovo also experienced a rare moment in international relations, a revocation of the country’s recognition by Suriname, which had recognized Kosovo back in July 2016.

Generous or mean?

When it comes to public spending, Haradinaj has recently revealed his displeasure at public money being wasted. In a cabinet meeting in early December, he referred to the “extortionists and looters,” of the village of Shipitulle, who according to the prime minister are not respecting the expropriation agreement that helped avoid an energy crisis in the spring.

Photo: Prime Minister’s office.

Despite Haradinaj’s annoyance at the situation in Shipitulle, he has found himself relaxing the purse strings in other situations. In November, 219,000 euros were allocated to the families of Kosovars convicted of terrorism by the Macedonian authorities, as a result of the 2015 clashes with Macedonian police in Kumanovo that resulted in 18 deaths.

The day after the verdict was announced in Skopje, families of the convicted gathered outside the government building. Haradinaj confronted the situation himself, coming out of his office to speak with the angry crowd.

The circumstances surrounding the incident remain disputed and an international investigation has been ordered to shed light on the case. However, the way Haradinaj haphazardly allocated the money to the families of those involved in the attack in Kumanovo leaves many questions.

Haradinaj later explained this spur-of-the-moment spending of public money in a debate on Klan Kosova. He claims he initially called the Minister of Justice Abelard Tahiri as an option for sourcing the money, and after Tahiri expressed reservations, Haradinaj said that he signed the decision by himself.

In a 4 year tenure the government will spend 3.6 million euros on the salaries of deputy-ministers.

Haradinaj’s haphazard approach to public money has also been evidenced by his decision to clear 58 million euros of debt owed to the state by the owners of water companies in Kosovo. The decision of Haradinaj abolished the administrative instruction which obliged the producers of water to retroactively pay the debt to the state.

While this revenue has been lost, an increase in public spending is set to occur on salaries for deputy ministers. With 64 in the current administration, it is the highest number for any government in Kosovo, and a large increase on the 45 deputy ministers present in the previous government. The number of deputy ministers is expected to grow even larger, as some ministers are currently without deputies, while some other ministers have up to six.

According to an article published in Jeta ne Kosove, in a 4 year tenure the government will spend 3.6 million euros on the salaries of deputy-ministers, excluding other expenses such as drivers, advisers and other expenses.

As well as an increase in spending, it was also reported that a lack of cars and space in various ministries, it has become difficult to accommodate the substantial increase in the numbers of deputy ministers.

Whereas in some cases Haradinaj presents himself as a leader that is cautious about spending the state’s money, the need to nurture governmental partners’ demands brings him back to point zero, and a situation in which public spending is allocated haphazardly.

Weak muscles

Whilst the government cannot complain about the number of the deputy ministers, what remains challenging is the number of deputies in the Assembly. The Haradinaj government is supported by the very minimum number of deputies possible at the Kosovo assembly — 61. This has caused a headache for any proposals that need a simple majority in the Kosovo assembly, let alone for issues that require a two thirds majority of 81 votes.

Last Sunday, the budget for 2018 secured only 62 votes, with opposition parties boycotting the voting process, demonstrating the difficulties Haradinaj’s government will face when proceeding with more controversial laws, if the political spectrum remains divided. Two of the biggest issues facing Kosovo, the border demarcation issue with Montenegro and the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force both require a two-thirds majority, which seems an almost impossible task at this juncture.

Photo: Atdhre Mulla / K2.0.

The weak bargaining position of the government has also given power to the numerous parties that make up the coalition, demonstrated again by the legion of deputy ministers. Twenty deputy ministers belong to coalition partner the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), who have only four deputies at Kosovo assembly.

That the appointment of deputy ministers has been made to fulfill the agreement of the coalition parties and not the needs of the ministries is also evidenced by the case of Fatir Berzati. Haradinaj removed Berzati from his position after a request from Lista Srpska, a coalition partner. It is alleged that the party were unhappy with their own Gorani coalition partner Berzati’s use of the phrase ‘the Republic of Kosovo.’

As well as being accused of bowing to pressure from coalition partners, there have also been suggestions of nepotistic appointments. It has been announced that Liridon Dervishaj, Haradinaj’s brother-in-law will manage the Health Insurance Fund, a decision made by the Ministry of Health.

Asked in an assembly session at Kosovo assembly, Haradinaj confirmed that Dervishaj will be the head of the Health Insurance Fund, but claimed that the 27-year-old is a professional in this field and no interference was exercised in his appointment.

Real Ramush and the Ramush in power

Haradinaj has been keen to portray himself as an energetic and hard-working leader, being strict about timekeeping and often taking a ‘hands on’ approach to issues. But his discourse has often shown a man trapped by his opposition past.

The most striking example came when Vetevendosje deputies Albin Kurti, Albulena Haxhiu and Donika Kadaj-Bujupi were arrested last month. The deputies were arrested for activating tear gas canisters during a Kosovo assembly session in which the border demarcation deal with Montenegro was being discussed.

Only those caught by amnesia would not remember that the new prime minister, who was then in opposition and a strong voice against the deal, was even threatening the then prime minister Isa Mustafa with arrest if he continued to chase the opposition with police.

Haradinaj expressed sorrow that the Vetevendosje deputies were arrested but asked them to be “obedient” to the judicial system and has said that they should have “nothing to fear.” Certainly, the judicial system and the government are separated powers, however the shift of his reaction from when he was in opposition to his new stance as prime minister was seen as hypocritical by many.

However, understanding his new reality seems to have affected the state of mind even of a former wartime commander. Just a few days after he came to power, he insulted a journalist at a press conference when he was persistently asked questions regarding the visa liberalisation process. Later, Haradinaj apologized for his behavior which found wide criticism, particularly within the community of journalists.

Paradoxically, the arguments that brought about the collapse of the previous government focused on their inability to proceed with “big decisions,” an issue which seems to be continuing with the current government.

The first 100 days have been not a bed of roses with both troubles in taking big decisions due to the lack of the numbers in the assembly as well as the complex composition of the government.

The government in 2018, as in previous years will be dominated by issues of transforming the Kosovo Security Force into an army, the border demarcation issue and the creation of the Association/Community of Serb Majority Municipalities. All these issues could not be resolved by the previous government that had more numbers of deputies backing the government than the current government.

Paradoxically, the arguments that brought about the collapse of the previous government focused on their inability to proceed with “big decisions,” an issue which seems to be continuing with the current government. Despite the energy shown from time to time by Haradinaj, the impotence of the votes at the assembly will be the biggest challenges for months to come.

What is for sure is that AAK militants are probably feeling less enthusiastic for the past 100 days, and will keep rekindling nostalgia for the 100 days of Haradinaj back in 2005.

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.