Yesterday (Sept. 21), campaigns for the local elections being held on Oct. 22 in all 38 of Kosovo’s municipalities officially started. It will be the third set of local elections since the country declared independence in 2008.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) have certified that 35 political parties will compete in the elections, as well as 30 civil initiatives and 25 independent candidates, running either as candidates for mayor or to become deputies in the Municipal Assemblies.
The CEC announced that the elections will also be monitored by both local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the international community, with 30 members of the EU Mission in Kosovo being accredited.
Wrestle for the capital
In Prishtina, Vetevendosje’s incumbent mayor Shpend Ahmeti is likely to be most challenged by the Democratic League of Kosovo’s (LDK) Arban Abrashi. Abrashi hopes to return control of the city to his party, whose president, Isa Mustafa, lost the runoff mayoral election in December 2013.
However, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) may also prove influential. Their mayoral candidate, Lirak Celaj, has often stated that his party’s backing of Ahmeti led to his victory in the runoff election in 2013. Should another runoff be required it will be interesting to see which party PDK will back considering the party’s strained relations with both LDK and Vetevendosje.
Issues that will dominate the campaign are likely to include the lack of parking space in the city, the completion of the plan for public transport, as well as discussions on urban planning and city governance. Ahmeti has announced that he will reveal 100 promises for the city during the campaign, with 10 promises in 10 different fields. Abrashi meanwhile has promised to change the way the city is governed, opening his campaign by describing Ahmeti’s previous four year mandate as a failed tenure.
The race for the Municipal Assembly will likely be almost as hotly contested as the mayoral election, with Ahmeti frequently stressing the need for Vetevendosje to control the assembly in order to support his mayorship.
Three parties vie over Kosovo’s ‘Jerusalem’
In Kosovo’s second city, Prizren, a tight three horse race is anticipated. PDK, LDK and Vetevendosje have all shown a strong appetite to govern the city that has been controlled by PDK for the past 10 years, and the party considers its “Jerusalem.” The mayoral race will be between PDK’s incumbent, Shaqir Totaj, Vetevendosje’s Mytaher Haskuka, and LDK’s Hatim Baxhaku — a deputy in the previous legislature in the Kosovo assembly.
Last night (Sept. 21) Vetevendosje launched their nationwide campaign in Prizren, demonstrating their strong interest in the historic city, while PDK’s president Kadri Veseli has also visited in the city in recent days expressing PDK’s determination to continue its governance. Campaign debates will likely revolve around the city’s growing cultural industry and the preservation of the city’s cultural heritage, alongside more typical infrastructure issues.
Further gains for Vetevendosje?
Prizren is not the only municipality expected to see a tight race. June’s parliamentary elections saw highly unexpected results for Vetevendosje in municipalities in which they have a limited representation at the local level. To help build on this momentum, Vetevendosje will field some of their most prominent members in the upcoming mayoral races in Ferizaj, Gjilan and Fushe Kosove, where the party received more votes than any other in June.
In Ferizaj, Vetevendosje deputy in the Kosovo Assembly, Faton Topalli, will attempt to dislodge LDK incumbent Muharrem Sfarqa, and will also face competition from PDK’s Agim Aliu who narrowly lost a runoff election to Sfarqa in 2013. Meanwhile in Gjilan, the competition will be between current Vetevendosje deputy, Sami Kurteshi, the current mayor of Gjilan, LDK’s Lutfi Haziri and PDK’s Zenun Pajaziti. Both cities suffer with problems surrounding illegal construction, which will likely feature heavily in the campaigns.
Fushe Kosove has been a stronghold of LDK since the end of the war. Four years ago, Vetevendosje received less than 11 percent of the votes in the municipal elections. However, they are hoping that fielding highly renowned anti-corruption activist Avni Zogiani as their mayoral candidate could help spring a surprise.
Kusari-Lila breaking away
The election in Gjakova is also expected to be interesting, with current mayor Mimoza Kusari-Lila seeking another term. In 2013, Kusari-Lila was elected mayor while a member of the New Alliance for Kosovo (AKR), though during her mandate she split from AKR and now leads a new party, Alternativa.
Kusari-Lila will likely not have the support of her former party, opening the door to contenders from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and Vetevendosje. Both are fielding prominent members as candidates, AAK putting forward former Minister of the Environment, Ardian Gjini and Vetevendosje selecting current Kosovo Assembly deputy, Driton Caushi.
Turnout in the north
2013’s local elections were marred by a number of attacks on polling stations in North Mitrovica. Turnout in Serb-majority municipalities in the north of the country was very low, especially in North Mitrovica, Zvecan and Leposavic, as it also was in 2014’s general election. However, turnout in these three municipalities increased dramatically for 2017’s early general election. Whether this trend will be continued in October’s local elections remains to be seen.K
Feature image: Atdhe Mulla/ K2.0.