In-depth | Local Elections 2021

Once again, elections

With runoffs in 21 municipalities, the races continue.

The runup for the local elections was a busy time for Kosovo’s citizens. There was the unofficial campaign starting early in the summer, another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in August, preventive measures that changed every two weeks and tensions in the north during September.

And so, on October 17, 42.5% of eligible voters went to the polls. It was the second time this year, after the general election held on February 14.

Although the general election resulted in a clear winner, the results of Sunday’s local election were far less conclusive. Of the country’s 38 municipalities, 21 are going to runoffs — 19 with an Albanian majority, one with a Turkish majority and one with a Serb majority — only half of the municipalities know who will lead them for the next four years.

Since 2007 the results of the local and general elections had almost completely been in line with each other, until in 2017 things started to change.

This year’s early general elections resulted in a dramatic shift, as LVV won the majority of votes in 23 municipalities while AAK and PDK gained only two and LDK, none. With this precedent, the local elections received special attention to see how the parties would perform.

LVV failed to achieve the same results this time. Meanwhile, PDK and LDK became the center of attention with their new central leaders, promises of internal reforms, new faces in the race and an enthusiastic spirit aiming at a comeback.

Victories, losses and new confrontations

Despite the sound victory in the snap general elections, LVV failed to win a single municipality on Sunday and will now go to the runoff in 12 municipalities.

In Prishtina, with only a 12% difference in votes in favor of their candidate Arben Vitia, LVV will face LDK in November. Përparim Rama is trying to return Prishtina to LDK’s fold, as it had been until 2013, when Shpend Ahmeti took it, back then as part of LVV.

The competition between LDK and LVV is especially close in Podujeva, where LVV surprisingly won 51% of the vote in snap elections in November 2020, taking over another old stronghold of LDK. However, this time, Ekrem Hyseni of LDK is leading with a margin of less than 200 votes.

Gjilan is another place where LDK and LVV will face each other. LVV’s candidate, Alban Hyseni, who is running for the first time, is challenging the two-term incumbent, Lutfi Haziri, with about 3% more votes. That poses another threat to LDK. In 2017, Haziri won with an advantage of 15.7% over LVV’s Sami Kurteshi.

And that is not the end; LDK is also being challenged in Fushë Kosova and Istog, where it has remained in power since 2007. At the same time, it is threatening AAK’s grip over Junik, where the smaller party has held power for three consecutive terms.

In Gjakova, meanwhile, there is a contest between two old rivals as the current mayor, Ardian Gjini from AAK faces his predecessor, LVV’s Mimoza Kusari-Lila, in the second round. Compared to the previous local elections, LVV has performed worse this year. In 2017, when Mimoza Kusari-Lila ran for Alternativa, she had only 7.8% fewer votes than Gjini; this time the difference is almost 10%.

At the same time, PDK is trying to retake Prizren, which they lost to LVV’s Mytaher Haskuka in 2017 after three consecutive terms in power.

Besides these 19 municipalities awaiting a new round of elections, the other nine Albanian-majority municipalities elected mayors by majority vote in the first round; of these mayors five were incumbents.

PDK’s candidate, Bedri Hamza, recaptured Mitrovica from the incumbent Agim Bahtiri, who was part of AKR when he took the city before joining LVV during the last term. The party also managed to retain Ferizaj in the hands of its current mayor, Agim Aliu.

Besides these, PDK won in Hani i Elezit for the first time, a municipality which had been led for three consecutive terms by an independent candidate, Rufki Suma. PDK also regained Skënderaj from another independent, Bekim Jashari, who had won the previous elections with 85.52% of the vote.

AAK lost substantial support in Obiliq, where a former party member turned independent is going to the runoff with LVV.

The election results in Serb-majority municipalities reconfirmed Srpska Lista as the dominant force in those areas. Supported openly by Belgrade, SL won in nine of the 10 Serb-majority municipalities. The only exception is Klokot, where they will go to a run-off against an independent candidate.

Municipalities of men

Electoral competition in Kosovo continues to take place mostly between men. Although the candidates had their mouths full of “women’s empowerment” in their campaigns and television programs, the numbers show that political parties, beyond words, are not ready to fulfill this promise internally. 

In these local elections, only 10 female candidates were nominated by the largest parties, PDK, LDK, LVV and AAK. PDK had four, LDK three, LVV two, and AAK one. An 11th candidate came from the Balliste Party. In total, of the 165 candidates for mayor in the 38 municipalities, only 13 were women, a meagre 7.8%. Meanwhile, there were 5,239 candidates for municipal assemblies, of which only 1,943, 37%, were women.

Except for Mimoza Kusari-Lila, no other candidate for mayor managed to get close to the post in the municipalities with an Albanian majority. PDK’s first female candidate, Arbënesha Kuqi, who was running in Gjakova, received only 3.39% of the votes.

That elections are still in the hands of men was confirmed by the voting patterns from the citizens, who did not support women enough to enter the runoff, let alone lead the municipalities. Apart from Gjakova, women ran in Deçan, Peja, Podujeva, Gjilan, Ferizaj, Drenas and Dragash. Drena Podrimqaku from the Balliste Party received only 0.23% in Peja, which is the lowest percentage received by any woman. Hyri Dobrunaj of PDK received 18.86% of the vote in Deçan, which is the highest after Kusari-Lila.

Over the years, women still remain profoundly under-represented. In 2007 only two women ran in local elections; in 2009, nine. In the 2013 elections, this number fell again to seven, while in 2017 things remained steady at eight.

A missing half, the other celebrated

Around 1.9 million citizens had the right to vote, but only 42.5% of them exercised it. There has been no lower turnout since 2007, when only 39% of citizens voted.

These elections found Kosovo facing measures against Covid-19. Even during the process, according to the latest decision of the Government, gathering more than 20 people in closed spaces was not allowed, and proof of vaccination in such settings is mandatory.

Some of the large political parties, PDK, AAK and LDK, agreed to conduct the campaign in just five days. At the same time, the presidents of PDK, Memli Krasniqi, LDK, Lumir Abdixhiku and AAK, Ramush Haradinaj, unanimously pledged to respect the government’s measures against Covid-19. At the same time, Prime Minister Albin Kurti, at the same time head of LVV, was in favor of postponing the elections to prevent spreading Covid.

However, in the end the measures against Covid-19 went largely unobserved. Sami Lushtaku, former mayor of Skënderaj and Fadil Nura, the current candidate for mayor of this municipality, concluded the campaign in a hall filled with hundreds of party supporters, indoors and without masks or social distance.

Similarly, Lumir Abdixhiku of LDK did not stand by his words, filling a closed space in support of his candidate in Podujeva, Ekrem Hyseni. Later, the end of the campaign continued on the streets, also crowded, despite the measures theoretically in place. 

There was also a rally in Gjilan, where LDK’s candidate, Lutfi Haziri, thanked the citizens for their trust, even though he remained in the run-off. The problem is he did that through a group selfie that clearly showed a large crowd in a closed space not practising social distancing and with only a few masks.

Finally, Kurti, who was in favor of postponing the elections altogether due to the pandemic, filled the streets of Podujeva with people on October 15 in support of his candidate for this municipality, Shpejtim Bulliqi. Once again, the crowd was standing with no distancing while the attendants listened to the successive end of campaign speeches.

After the vote, on October 17, the celebration started in most municipalities. As in campaigning, the political parties turned a blind eye to Covid-19 in celebration, filling city streets, party headquarters and bars with people.  Everyone seemed to have victories to celebrate, despite the fact that 19 Albanian-majority municipalities appear to be headed for runoffs.

The final results that will decide the mayors of these municipalities will finally be known after November 14, when the second round of local elections will be held.K

Feature Image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.


This article has been produced with the financial support of the “Balkan Trust for Democracy,” a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade, the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners.