Lately | Politics

Prime minister’s mandate interrupted twice

By - 23.07.2019

A summary of Haradinaj’s surprising resignation.

Just prior to the start of last weekend, on July 19, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj shocked everyone at a press conference, when he announced his irrevocable resignation. This came as a result of him being summoned by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, also known as the Specialist Court, which will investigate crimes committed during and after the war in Kosovo in the 1998-2000 period.

Haradinaj made the public announcement himself, after he informed his government cabinet. He said that he was summoned by the court as a suspect, but it is not yet clear whether an indictment is filed against him.

During his speech, Haradinaj also addressed one of the most popular and controversial decisions he made as prime minister — namely the decision he made in November 2018 to impose a 100% tax on products from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina — saying that it would continue to stand. Haradinaj stated that he did not wish to go to The Hague as prime minister, because he believed that this would damage the state of Kosovo, and therefore he decided to attend as a private citizen.

“I think that after my resignation, the government will fulfill its duties until the formation of a new government as a result of free elections. Now it is the president’s responsibility to initiate consultations and set the date for elections together with political parties. These are constitutional timeframes,” he said in the press conference.

In addition to summoning Haradinaj, the Specialist Chambers in The Hague also summoned the former head of the KLA General Headquarters, Bislim Zyrapi, who currently serves as an advisor to President Thaçi; former spokesman of the KLA and former head of the Assembly, Jakup Krasniqi; former member of the General Staff and former mayor of the Municipality of Klina, Sokol Bashota. 

The Specialist Court has summoned others in the past, including Sami Lushtaku, the PDK mayor of Skenderaj, Rrustem Mustafa-Remi of PDK who is the former KLA Commander of the Llap Zone, as well as AAK deputy and former KLA commander of the Suhareka region, Blerim Kuçi, among others.

The Specialist Chambers were established in August 2015 by the Kosovo Assembly through a constitutional amendment. They function as part of the Kosovo court system and are based in The Hague. Their objective is to ensure a regular process and provide security for protected witnesses. The European Union covers the costs of their operations. 

Contradictory reactions in political circles

Immediately after Haradinaj’s resignation came the first reactions. 

While President Hashim Thaçi wrote on his Facebook page that “the values of freedom and the war of the KLA cannot be violated by anyone,” in 2015 he pushed for the ratification of the decision to establish the Specialist Court in the Assembly of Kosovo. Regarding future political steps, he added: “I assure you that I will act based on my constitutional and legal competences, of which Kosovo citizens will be informed in good time.”

Kadri Veseli, chairman of the Assembly and president of the PDK, the biggest partner in the government coalition, declared in a press conference: “The former prime minister’s decision to resign is a personal decision and we have accepted it as such, despite the fact that there was no prior notice or consultation.”

Both Veseli and Haradinaj have recently been involved in a controversy regarding the tax issue, with Veseli supporting the U.S. Embassy’s insistence on removing the tax, and Haradinaj refusing to oblige.

Veseli, who was on a work visit in the U.S. when Haradinaj resigned, said that he would not allow the form of communication that Haradinaj uses with Serbia to be implemented in relations with the U.S. and the EU. “This is the difference between Prime Minister Haradinaj and I,” he said. In response, Haradinaj described Veseli’s statement as low and servile. “It is embarrassing to equate our approach towards Serbia to our approach towards the U.S.,” he said.

In the immediate aftermath of Haradinaj’s resignation, reactions came from the other two partners of the government coalition. Fatmir Limaj, deputy prime minister and president of the Social Democratic Initiative said that the court’s decision to summon Haradinaj is “an unjust move by an unjust court,” while Behgjet Pacolli, minister of foreign affairs and president of the New Kosovo Alliance described the act of resignation as “a statesman’s move.”

Isa Mustafa, head of the opposition party Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) stated that his party has continuously demanded the resignation of this government, but added that they “feel sympathy for the fact that this has happened due to his summoning by the Specialist Chambers.”

In fact, there was controversy between them after Haradinaj claimed that Rama pressured him to remove the tax.

Albin Kurti, president of Vetëvendosje, had the harshest response: “Recently he [Haradinaj] saw that the vote of no confidence would also be supported by some deputies who had initially supported him. He realized what we had told him before: his prime ministerial mandate resembled a ride with a bicycle that was temporarily loaned to him by the PDK.”

There were also reactions across the region. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić described Haradinaj’s resignation as “political fraud,” adding that Haradinaj would stay in The Hague for two or three days and “return as a hero.”

Albanian political leaders in Albania and Macedonia also reacted to this development. Albanian President Ilir Meta, former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, opposition leader Lulzim Basha and head of BDI, Ali Ahmeti, all described the summoning by the Specialist Court as “unjust.”

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s silence was notable. Since the Berlin Summit in May, the two prime ministers have had colder relations. In fact, there was controversy between them after Haradinaj claimed that Rama pressured him to remove the tax. Rama was very late in his Twitter response compared to other leaders, and in it he did not mention Haradinaj, but gave a general response in defense of KLA.

The saga of judicial proceedings

This is not the first judicial process regarding war crimes that has involved Haradinaj. In March 2005, about three months after he was first elected as prime minister of the LDK-AAK coalition, he resigned after being summoned by the International Tribunal for War Crimes in former Yugoslavia. 

What followed was a massive campaign in his defense titled “Our prime minister has a job to do here.” “Ramush’s 100 days” became somewhat of a myth, with his party colleagues claiming that this was the only period in which a Kosovar prime minister managed to establish law and order.

Nevertheless, in January 2017, Haradinaj would face international justice once again.

After notifying his coalition partner, President Ibrahim Rugova, Haradinaj resigned and the government continued with a new prime minister, Bajram Kosumi of the AAK. At the time, Kosovo experienced a series of political contestations up until the election in fall 2007. This was a crucial political period for Kosovo due to the negotiations in Vienna for the settlement of the final status of Kosovo, which led to the declaration of independence in February 2008.

A couple of months later, in April 2008, Haradinaj was declared innocent by The Hague Tribunal regarding all accusations for war crimes. However, subsequently a former Tribunal prosecutor of The Hague wrote a book titled “The Hunt,” in which she claimed that former KLA commanders had intimidated potential witnesses in the judicial process. As such, two years later, in July 2010, his case was brought back for partial retrial in Hague. Haradinaj was acquitted of all accusations in November 2012, bringing an end to his almost eight-year-long saga with the international justice system.

Nevertheless, in January 2017, Haradinaj, who was opposition leader at the time, would face international justice once again. Due to an international arrest warrant launched by Serbia through INTERPOL, he was arrested upon entry in France and released four months later, one month before the parliamentary elections of May 2017, when a French court refused Serbia’s demand for his extradition. 

In the 2017 national elections, Haradinaj won around 100,000 votes and ranked fourth among the political leaders. However, through a government coalition with PDK and Nisma, Haradinaj managed to win the prime ministerial post.

Now, for the second time, The Hague is interrupting Haradinaj’s mandate.

The political inheritance of his two years as prime minister

While in Kosovo arrest warrants for former KLA commanders still provoke sentiments of solidarity with these figures, this time around it seems that the euphoria is not the same as it was in 2004. This is because Haradinaj’s almost two year long mandate has been characterized by a series of controversial and problematic decisions.

After coming to power, Haradinaj increased his salary to 3,000 euros, twice the prior amount. In a statement to the media, he declared that he needed to buy ties so that he could properly present himself in one of the highest government positions. This statement incited many citizens to organize protests in front of the government in December 2017. The protesters symbolically placed tens of ties on the fence of the government building. His decision to increase his salary was contested in the Constitutional Court by Vetëvendosje, but the court decided in Haradinaj’s favor.

Domestically, he was most contested for his decision to continuously increase the number of deputy prime ministers. There are 80 deputy prime ministers for a total of 21 ministries. This has been considered as a senseless move done solely with the objective to benefit party members. 

Internationally, Haradinaj caused the most controversy with his decision to raise a 100% tax on products from Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

After Haradinaj’s resignation, opposition parties have also mentioned other decisions that they consider as “treason.” For example, Vetëvendosje leader Albin Kurti mentioned the issue of the approval of the border demarcation agreement with Montenegro. Haradinaj and Kurti fought on the same side regarding this issue in 2015-16, co-organizing protests in which tear gas was used in the Assembly, to oppose the approval of the agreement that the then Prime Minister Isa Mustafa had reached with the Montenegrin government. 

Although their opposition led to the fall of the government in 2017 and resulted in snap elections, when Haradinaj came to power the agreement was accepted and subsequently approved in the Assembly of Kosovo in March 2018.

Aaron Demi, director of the GAP Institute, wrote an opinion piece on the 400th day of Haradinaj’s mandate in October 2018, summarizing some of the most problematic decisions and policies of his governance. 

This included the invention of new positions in state administration, such as national coordinators; interventions in the Ministry of Education, namely his decision to sack the board of the State Quality Council (SQC) without prior approval from the Assembly, as is provided by law; nepotism and cronyism in appointments to boards of public enterprises; the allocation of an additional 53 million euros for “Bechtel-Enka,” the company that built the Prishtina-Skopje highway, with the justification that there were delays in payments in accordance with the contract, etc.

Meanwhile, internationally Haradinaj caused the most controversy with his decision to raise a 100% tax on products from Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The tax came as a result of the Serbian diplomatic offensive to prevent Kosovo’s membership in international institutions, for example Kosovo’s application to INTERPOL. Subsequently, the tax affected the flow of the dialogue for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, after Serbian President Vučić announced that he would not return to the dialogue table without the annulment of the tax. 

What now?

Yesterday, on July 22, Haradinaj officially notified President Thaçi and Head of Parliament Veseli regarding his resignation. But it is still unclear what steps the president will take.

According to Article 95.5 of the Constitution of Kosovo, “If the Prime Minister resigns or for any other reason the post becomes vacant, the Government ceases and the President of the Republic of Kosovo appoints a new candidate in consultation with the majority party or coalition that has won the majority in the Assembly to establish the Government.”

However, it is not yet known whether President Thaçi will undertake such consultations to propose a new candidate for the prime ministerial post, or whether he will dissolve the Kosovo Assembly and announce snap elections in the country. 

The possibility of choosing a new prime minister seems slim, considering the weakness of the government coalition and their inability to act in a unified manner, as well as the clashes and disagreements between political subjects — specifically between the AAK and the PDK — and Haradinaj’s statement that his resignation opens the door for elections, which implies that his party is not ready to support a new prime minister.

Political analyst Fisnik Halimi evaluated that Haradinaj’s resignation was done with the objective of receiving electoral benefits, whereas many other analysts have stated that Haradinaj realized that Nisma was ready to give LDK and Vetëvendosje their support for the vote of no confidence, and that he therefore decided to resign as a hero persecuted by international justice. 

Analyst Imer Mushkolaj said that there is no space for a new prime minister. According to him, delaying the elections could block the work of local institutions. “The president must respect constitutional timeframes and announce snap elections as soon as possible,” he said.

Kosovo Public Radio and Television (RTK) reported on Monday, based on sources within the Presidency, that snap elections will be held on September 8.

Considering the mood among political parties and based on anonymous sources of the public radio and television, it seems that autumn in Kosovo will come with snap parliamentary elections.

Feature image: K2.0