The rush to take credit for ordering the stopping of Serbia’s controversial North Mitrovica-bound train on Saturday (January 14), has led to a debate on whether President Hashim Thaci exceeded his competences and breached the Constitution.
In a statement for Gazeta Express on Saturday, Thaci said: “Considering negligence of authorities, today I have invited in my office, by respecting the constitutionality and laws and within my competencies to preserve territorial integrity and sovereignty, I have invited minister of interior and police director. I asked them to prevent the train from entering to Kosovo by all costs.”
The president’s claim was backed up on Saturday by the man who succeeded him as PDK leader, Kadri Veseli, who wrote on his Facebook page: “The Kosovo institutions, respecting the order of the President for preventing the Serbian train before it entered Kosovo, showed a determination to preserve our state sovereignty.”
However according to Article 84 of the Constitution of Kosovo, which sets out the competencies of the president, the president has no executive competencies to order actions from a security force, other than the Kosovo Security Force (KSF).
Thaci’s claim, which he also repeated in a tweet, came one day after Friday’s meeting of the Republic of Kosovo’s Security Council, at which the government claims the decision to stop the train was in fact made. In a statement on his Facebook page on Saturday evening, Mustafa wrote that the Council had taken the decision that “the Republic of Kosovo’s institutions, in accordance with the situation, must undertake all legal and constitutional actions [to prevent the train from entering Kosovo].”
This course of events was supported by Minister of Internal Affairs, Skender Hyseni at a briefing session of the parliamentary Committee on Internal Affairs, Security and Supervision of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) that took place yesterday. He added that the decision to send Kosovo Police’s Regional Operational Support Unit (ROSU) to the border at Jarinje was given by the general director of Kosovo Police, Shpend Maxhuni.
Present at Friday’s Security Council meeting chaired by Mustafa were the minister for internal affairs, the general director of Kosovo Police, the director of Kosovo Intelligence Agency, the minister for Kosovo Security Forces, the KSF commander and the president’s security adviser. President of the Assembly Veseli was also invited and attended for the first time since undertaking his position. Thaci was in transit from his visit to the United States at the time of the meeting and did not attend.
Regarding President Thaci’s role in developments, Hyseni told the parliamentary committee that “naturally he was in constant contact with the institutions” about events. However, he added that neither the president nor the prime minister nor himself as minister of internal affairs can give orders to the Kosovo Police. “Only the director of police himself can take operational actions,” he said, referring to the competencies set out in the Law on the Police.
Public in the dark
Gjyljeta Mushkolaj, a former Constitutional Court judge who was part of the commission that drafted Kosovo’s Constitution, told K2.0 that the president, together with the prime minister and the government, has substantial authority regarding security issues.
“The President of the Republic of Kosovo may call meetings of the Security Council of the Republic of Kosovo and the Council is obliged to closely coordinate its work with the President,” she said. “Therefore I believe that the president was a key part of the process, but unfortunately, because of his arrogance, the public is not informed properly. We do not know whether the president had issued any order, or decision. Neither the Official Gazette, nor the president’s website contains any decision. Our Constitution requires transparency, and there are ways to keep the public properly informed without disclosing secret documents. The president should never keep the public in the dark.”
Political analyst and journalist Halil Matoshi was the first to raise the issue of a potential violation of the Constitution by Thaci. Matoshi told K2.0 that according to Article 94 of the Constitution, all orders for law enforcement forces in times of peace are given by the prime minister. “In a democracy like Kosovo’s democracy, the role of the President is set out by the Constitution, but not being a part of the executive, every constitutional action undertaken by the president must be done in consultation with the prime minister, and in cases of a state of emergency, the prime minister must also do the same [consult with the president],” he said.
According to legal expert Ehat Miftaraj, from the justice research and advocacy NGO Kosovo Institution for Justice, institutional coordination between the president and the prime minister is required as they both receive the same information from the Kosovo Intelligence Agency, but there should be no need for the president to be involved in the work of independent institutions.
“In principle and under normal circumstances, heads of the [independent] institutions should build cooperation and coordination in combating crime independently and without the need for coordination or consultation with the president or other [political leaders],” he told K2.0.
Miftaraj says that in the past there were many cases in which former president Atifete Jahjaga invited the Kosovo Judicial Council chair, the chief state prosecutor and the general director of Kosovo Police to meetings, mainly to coordinate activities between justice and security institutions in the war against terrorism and violent extremism. According to him, these meetings could be considered as a bad precedent for her successors as president, as well as for Kosovo’s already fragile democracy.
In parliamentary circles and especially among opposition parties, discussions have begun about whether Thaci’s claim to have issued an order to Kosovo Police should be dealt with in the Constitutional Court. However at the time of publishing, no final decision had been made.K
Fearure image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.