Avdullah Hoti is the new prime minister of Kosovo, after his coalition government secured the support of the Assembly by a single vote.
A simple majority of Kosovo’s 120 deputies voted in favor of a coalition led by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), with 61 votes for, 24 against and 1 abstention. The new coalition government also includes the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), NISMA, Srpska Lista (Serb List) and other parties representing minority communities.
Deputies from Vetëvendosje (VV) refused to take part in the vote; VV won the elections in October on an anti-corruption ticket and had headed the outgoing government before being toppled in a no-confidence motion initiated by junior coalition partner LDK just 52 days after taking office. The party has described the circumstances surrounding the formation of the new government as symptomatic of the “captured state.”
President of the Assembly, Vjosa Osmani, who was LDK’s popular prime ministerial candidate in October’s elections but has spoken out vociferously against her party’s subsequent maneuvers, did not take part in the Assembly session. Osmani had proposed a temporary technical government pending new elections.
PDK deputies voted against the proposed new government, but the required majority of 61 votes was achieved after NISMA’s Haxhi Shala agreed to vote in favor.
In recent days he had stated that he intended to vote against the new government, but in Wednesday’s session he told deputies that he had been persuaded to change his mind after a visit to his house by President Hashim Thaçi — who the Constitution requires to be politically neutral — and AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj.
The new coalition comes after Kosovo’s Constitutional Court backed President Thaçi’s decree to form a new government without holding fresh elections, a decision met with incredulity by many citizens and analysts who have little faith in the independence of the judiciary or the president.
A recently published UNDP Public Pulse survey shows that just 25% of citizens are satisfied with the judiciary and just 19% with the president. In contrast, the survey shows unprecedented support for the outgoing government led by VV’s Albin Kurti; 61% of citizens expressed their satisfaction with the government, double the maximum support enjoyed by any previous government in Kosovo’s recent history.
VV’s leader and outgoing Prime Minister Albin Kurti has described the court’s decision as “beyond imagination” on both a logical and legal level. “Instead of making an interpretation of the constitution, the court seems to have this approach: Since the president is right, let’s try to justify it,” he wrote in a public statement.
The new LDK-led government will increase the number of ministries from 15 to 16, and the number of deputy prime ministers from two to four*. The Hoti administration will not have a dedicated Ministry of European Integration, while one of the new “super ministries” created just months ago — the Ministry of Economy, Employment, Trade, Industry, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Investment — will be broken up again.
See the full list of new ministers at the bottom of this article.
Hoti has named AAK’s Besnik Tahiri as first deputy prime minister; NISMA’s Albulena Balaj, Serb List’s Goran Rakić and his own LDK party colleague Driton Selmanaj will be his other deputies. Meanwhile, critics have previously pointed to the fact that at least two of the newly appointed ministers have been involved in corruption scandals.
Speaking in the Assembly ahead of the vote, Hoti said that he felt responsibility toward deputies, citizens and the Constitution.
“We are a nation who needs a government that will serve it, and not vice-versa, a government that needs a nation for experimentation,” he said. “We have started only from social interest. The new government will not have any other power except that deriving from the Constitution.”
An hour before the Assembly session was due to begin, the outgoing government held a regular meeting — without LDK ministers — in which it approved the allocation of 12 million euros to the Ministry of Economy, Employment, Trade, Industry, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Investments to implement an Emergency Fiscal Package in response to the ongoing pandemic.
It also pledged 60,000 euros to the families of two miners killed in an incident in the Artana Mine on Tuesday (June 2) and voted to dismiss the Board of Directors of the Central Public Enterprise “Mitrovica” water supply company, appointing an Interim Board of Directors in its place.
New government priorities
Hoti also set out the new government’s program, saying that its main priorities would be battling the COVID-19 pandemic and restoring the economy, as well as “strengthening the state,” increasing employment and “empowering competitive abilities.”
Hoti also spoke about Kosovo-Serbia relations, the issue that has long dominated discussions around Kosovo’s foreign policy and which was cited by LDK as a key reason for instigating the earlier no-confidence motion against its own VV-LDK coalition government.
There was always tension between VV and LDK over this issue, as Kurti pressed ahead with enacting his election pledge — subsequently part of the VV-LDK coalition agreement — to replace the 100% tax on Serbian imports with “reciprocal measures.” Serbia pulled out of the dialogue process with Kosovo in 2018 after Kosovo’s then PM Ramush Haradinaj introduced the tax in response to Belgrade’s sustained campaign to encourage countries to “derecognize” Kosovo. This led to intense pressure from the U.S. for Kosovo to remove the tariff unequivocally as it has ramped up pressure to get a “final agreement” between Kosovo and Serbia.
“A final agreement [with Serbia] is of vital interest to Kosovo; the authorities will fully respect the Constitution during the negotiations,” Hoti said. “The dialogue [with Serbia] will have clear objectives for the issues that will be brought to the table and we will be transparent. The agreement will be based reciprocally between Kosovo and Serbia.”
Uncertainty over the future of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia has increased in recent months, as the U.S. has taken an increasingly interventionist stance led by controversial envoy Richard Grenell. Analysts have linked heightened U.S. interest with Donald Trump’s desire for a “good news” foreign policy story ahead of scheduled U.S. elections in November.
The U.S. approach has seen divisions open up with the EU — which has facilitated the dialogue process since it began in 2011 — but has been strongly supported by Thaçi, who has installed himself as Kosovo’s lead negotiator. Thaçi has spoken in support of a controversial land swap agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, which has also been mentioned by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, although details have never been revealed.
However, Hoti ruled out any land swaps, before going on to reiterate his party’s position to maintain “the everlasting friendship” with the U.S.
“We will be responsible for pushing forward the dialogue process alongside the EU and the USA, while not allowing border changes and territorial exchange,” he said. “We have no dilemmas of the kind ‘with America or with someone else’ — our rapport with the USA is special and permanent.”
Responding to Hoti’s presentation of his cabinet and overview of its program, the head of VV’s parliamentary group, Rexhep Selimi, accused LDK of deceiving the citizens and its former coalition partner.
“As well as illegal, the government you are trying to form today will be illegitimate,” he said. “It will be Thaçi’s government, and in the end he will throw it away like a rag. He will need this to legitimize the partition of Kosovo and in order to win himself another mandate as president.”
The president’s mandate is due to expire in April 2021.K
Additional reporting by Tringë Sokoli and Plator Gashi.
Feature image courtesy of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Editor’s note (03/06/20): This article has been updated after publishing to clarify the number of new ministries and deputy prime ministers. The original version stated that the new government will have 19 ministries. While there will be 19 members of Avdullah Hoti’s new cabinet, this number includes the four deputy prime ministers. The updated version breaks the numbers down. (Lista Srpska’s Goran Rakić is both minister of local government administration and deputy prime minister.)