In-depth | Local Elections 2017

Muharrem Svarqa vs. Agim Aliu

By - 16.11.2017

Old rivals competing again in the race for Ferizaj.

In the local elections held on Oct. 22, Agim Aliu of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won 39.2 percent of the vote in the Ferizaj municipality, followed by current mayor Muharrem Svarqa of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), who won 31.3 percent.

The result means that they will face each other in the run-off election on Nov. 19, a repeat of the 2013 run-off in the city. Back then, Aliu also entered as the most voted for candidate in the first round, but Svarqa formed a coalition with the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and managed to come from behind to win the right to lead Ferizaj for the following four years.

Their programs are similar on many points, such as the project for subsidizing business interest.

Svarqa has employed the same tactic of forming a coalition this time around, only this time with the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR). His rival Agim Aliu has not officially announced any coalitions, however, the head of the Ashkali Party for Integration (PAI), Danush Ademi, has publicly announced his support.

The election campaign has been characterized by harsh rhetoric on both sides. Aliu has accused the current mayor of bad governance and nepotism. Svarqa on the other hand has often accused Aliu of being a reluctant candidate, who is only running because of pressure from his party, and has stated that he would work hard to prevent PDK from gaining power in Ferizaj.

Svarqa’s campaign is based on what he assesses to be the good work that he has done throughout his mandate. One of the points that he has mentioned continuously is “eradicating organized crime in local government,” alluding to PDK. He has promised to secure funding from central government and external donors to invest in infrastructure, and a reform of the municipal administration.

Although he has stated many times that his government has never been involved in any scandals, Svarqa has been accused of rewarding his close affiliates with tenders throughout the past four years.

His uncle has been implicated in a few cases, one involving the allegedly corrupt awarding of tenders, and two others involving allegations made by local businessman Ismet Kamenica regarding physical attacks and demands for payments in exchange for issuing a construction permit.

On the other hand, Svarqa has continuously accused PDK’s Agim Aliu of manipulating votes during the first round of elections, claiming that votes were bought especially among the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.

In general, both candidates have spent most of their campaign attacking each other, rather than offering solutions to problems that affect citizens. Their programs are similar on many points, such as a shared project for subsidizing business interests.

Facilitating business

Svarqa’s program is based on economic development. He has continuously highlighted that the total number of businesses registered in the Ferizaj municipality has doubled during his tenure. He has said that he will continue to develop the ongoing project of subsidizing agricultural business interests, adding that 600,000 euros have been allocated to this project.

However, he has not offered any concrete figures regarding how many new jobs have been created, whether or not these subsidies will be offered all throughout his new mandate or the effect they will have on employment figures.

Svarqa also attributed the economic development and increase in the number of businesses to good management of public funds. Moreover, he promised that if he wins, he plans to focus economic development on small family businesses by subsidizing them.

On the other hand, Aliu has highlighted that it is important that he returns for another mandate in Ferizaj so as to continue the “good cooperation between business and the city.” He has promised to create an employment fund for helping the business community, but has not offered any figures regarding the fund.

Subsidies are an important part of Aliu’s plan. He promises to offer financial aid to businesses from the municipal budget, as well as to subsidize business interests. According to him, the municipality will play a role, which will create conditions in which banks will compete to offer loans, benefiting businesses.

The PDK man has promised to build a memorial park in the mountains of Jezerc village, as he believes that this will positively influence the tourism industry, though has not provided any further details, such as cost.

Investment in infrastructure

During this election campaign, Svarqa has continuously mentioned that he has managed to secure funding for a series of infrastructure projects, with the Ministry of Infrastructure investing more than 20 million euros in his projects. He highlighted that he will continue to work on improving city infrastructure in this way.

One of Ferizaj Municipality’s biggest projects is the construction of the square in front of the Municipality’s offices. Svarqa has said that construction is almost complete, adding that delays were caused because of requests for qualitative work.

He has promised to build the city stadium with a sum of 10 million euros, as well as to invest in improving the sewage system, paving roads and building schools.

Of the 45 villages that are part of the municipality, 31 face issues related to the sewage system and the supply of drinking water. Svarqa aims to solve this issue by building wells in Ferizaj’s villages.

In some villages, investments for regulating the water supply system have been made since 2011, but this job is still yet to be finished. Svarqa has said that this investment will continue without offering additional details, also stating that the sewage system issue will be solved by building a sewage collection plant through a collaborative project with the World Bank.

He has also mentioned investment plans for roads in 15 villages, paving Brahim Ademi and Driton Islami roads in the city as well as the road that connects Ferizaj to Vitia, building an underground subway for pedestrians in Varosh village, as well as other projects which he aims to co-finance with the Ministry of Infrastructure.

On the other hand, Aliu has focused his infrastructure investment ideas on a plan called “Unifying the City,” which he aims to implement in three phases.

As part of it, he aims to continue building the underground pedestrian subway on Ahmet Kaqiku street, as well as building an overhead passageway for pedestrians above the railway line. He also plans to construct an underground pedestrian passageway that would connect two parts of the city. Aliu hopes to finance this three phase project through the municipal budget.

Aliu also plans to invest in the infrastructure of the sewage and water supply systems respectively. He has promised to provide access to every village. However, he has not provided further details about cost and time frame.

Svarqa has described Aliu’s proposed plan to construct the underground passageway as a mere electoral promise, stating that the railway is the property of the Ministry of Infrastructure, making it impossible for the municipality to implement its projects there. He went on to say that a feasibility study must be conducted beforehand.

Health care and education

One of the current mayor’s main promises was that he is going to build the city hospital, a project initiated by Aliu when he led the municipality.

Svarqa has said that the project has not been implemented due to deliberate political delays. He highlighted that the municipality has fulfilled its obligations, blaming the Ministry of Health and PDK.

Despite Svarqa’s accusations, at the time when the construction of the hospital was in the planning phase, Ismet Rrahmani of LDK was the Minister of Health. Although the Ministry has annulled the tender several times, in March this year it was finally awarded to three companies. Despite this, and the municipality having the funding secured, construction is yet to start.

Agim Aliu also promises to build the hospital within the next mandate, and plans to construct a Diagnostic Center that would offer x-ray and examination services, which, according to Aliu, are currently lacking in Family Medicine Centers (FMCs).

Aliu also promises to invest in FMC infrastructure, as well as to provide them with necessary equipment. Furthermore, he promises to build three new FMCs, but has not specified where . Aliu also promises villagers who do not live in close proximity to an FMC that he will have doctors visit them at their houses.

Both candidates have offered options for solving issues that face residents. However, having proposed their projects, neither have offered additional details regarding costs, timelines or about how these projects will improve civil life.

Regarding the education sector, both candidates promise to move Gjon Serreci school to another location, seeing that it has the highest number of pupils in Ferizaj.

Svarqa promised to further distribute meals to pupils from first to fifth grades, and said that he is considering extending this practice up to the ninth grade. He also plans to subsidize the food and travel expenses of teaching staff, as well as paying them three months of their salary in full after retirement.

Svarqa has promised to build the new ‘Shaban Shabani’ high school, as well as other school facilities, saying that the municipality has created space for their construction.

Aliu’s priority on the other hand, is to form a council for identifying professions, so that based on their findings, new alternatives could be offered in professional schools. According to him, this must be preceded by the depoliticization of the education system, not least by forming councils comprised of parents for appointing school headmasters.

Aliu promises to create a special fund that will be dedicated to cleaning schools. He has also promised to build a new school, digitalize school diaries and increase the level of security in schools.

It is now all in the hands of Ferizaj’s residents, who will get to choose their next mayor by voting on Nov. 19. Both candidates have tried their hand at governing one of the most economically developed cities in Kosovo and have offered options for solving issues that face residents. However, having proposed their projects, neither have offered additional details regarding costs, timelines or about how these projects will improve civil life.K

Illustration: K2.0.