In-depth | Elections 2019

Voting with doubt and hope

By - 04.10.2019

Fighting corruption, education, health, and employment — priorities of some voters from Prizren and Ferizaj.

Despite there being doubts about the exact number of voters, approximately 1,8 million  Kosovar citizens are potential voters in the general elections that will take place on October 6. 25 competing parties, with over 2,000 candidates, are the options among which Kosovars have to choose their next parliament, and subsequently the new government.

With the dissolution of the government in July of this year, the elections are dominating the atmosphere in Kosovo even though the official campaign only started on September 25.

Gatherings, coalitions, accessions, prime minister candidates, TV debates featuring accusations, counter-accusations and physical fighting have been monopolizing public discussions. As usual, numerous promises have been given — this time they were called pledges — and posters displaying the candidates with their numbers and party slogans catch the eyes of passersby. Polls and surveys were also a constant in these elections.

The difference in these elections was that there were 42,000 applications from the diaspora, which is three times more than in the previous general elections. Starting from September 18, the diaspora started to vote via post.

As usual, politicians continued mentioning the problems that Kosovars are facing, focusing — at least rhetorically — on education, health and economic development; this time they avoided presenting numbers for the latter.

But how do the citizens see these topics?

As two of the cities that have seen the largest shifts in votes, K2.0 has spoken with some of the residents of Prizren and Ferizaj about how they see the politics and the politicians in Kosovo, whether they will vote, and the issues that will lead them to decide on their vote.

“The waiter’s city”

Ferizaj is the second most economically developed city in the country, as well as one of the centers with the largest number of residents and voters. Despite the high economic rankingrelative to the Kosovar context — unemployment continues to be one of the problems that people from Ferizaj point out. They criticize the urban chaos, corruption and nepotism, which they connect with the education and healthcare systems.

This situation has often brought to the change in the power relations of political parties in the city.

In the last three national elections, Ferizaj has voted in different manners.

In the 2017 general elections, Lëvizja Vetëvendosje came first, after receiving around 35% of the votes. In second place was the PDK-AAK-Nisma (PAN) coalition with around 31% of the votes, followed by LDK and its coalition partners at the time, with around 30% of the votes.

These results overthrew the order of the 2014 general elections, when LDK was leading while PDK was in second place, followed by Vetëvendosje. While in 2010, PDK won, followed by LDK and Vetëvendosje in third place. In the last two local elections, Ferizaj was governed by LDK and PDK.

Education as a criterion for vote

Valton Elezi has been self-employed for several years now. The 38-year-old works alone in a bar near the theater in the city center. He also owns a beehive, which he works with from time to time.

The businessman, who spends around 12 hours a day working, says that although he doesn’t fully neglect the economy, the party that will get his vote is the one that he believes is going to focus on education.

“The biggest failure of politics in Kosovo is in education,” he says.

According to him, when education improves, every other sphere will be improved.

He says that he has followed the promises of the political parties, and this time he expects “the party to win that he has never voted for before.” All that he hopes is that the party that gets to win “will form a coalition that will have an impact [on governance],” according to him, it should be between LDK and Vetëvendosje, but he wouldn’t mind for the NISMA Socialdemokrate to be there as well.

“When I think about voting someone, I look back on the past and I know they aren’t the right people”.

Lironë Tahiri

In his view, these parties need to be in power, since he thinks that they have an educated team on their side that would give importance to the education and would open doors for “educated people.” 

Lironë Tahiri also believes that education needs to be a priority.

“We need to urgently focus on education,” says the 23-year-old graduate from the faculty of civil engineering. “We have no books, many of the professors and assistants are unqualified to teach, some of them need to be fired,” she says.

Dissatisfied with her experience during her studies, she insists that education is to be blamed and that “the construction [sector] in Kosovo isn’t safe at all; it is a disaster.”

According to her, in order to improve this, students need to be qualified by the right professionals. But she has no hope that this is going to happen. That is why Lirona doesn’t know if she will vote on Sunday. If she does, she says that there is a high chance that she will sign an “X” on the ballot.  

The young woman, who has just earned a chance to do her masters in Germany, says that “when I think about voting for someone, I look back on the past and I know they aren’t the right people.” 

Just as she isn’t sure if she will vote, Lirona is also in a dilemma about whether she will continue to live in Kosovo.

Hope for change

Adem, Orges, and Nderim don’t have any doubts about whether they will vote in elections, or for whom they are going to vote.

Adem — who doesn’t want to give his surname — has been living in Germany for 26 years now and is unable to understand those who don’t vote. The 65-year-old pensioner came to Kosovo on vacation approximately two weeks ago. The decisive impetus for him to spend the first vacation this year in Kosovo during this time were the elections that will take place on October 6.

“I will vote, and for the good of the people,” he says.

The best for him is “moving forward, and not the stagnation.”

Even this time, he won’t change the party he votes for. From the “old party,” as he calls it, he expects that they will have as a priority “the legal state, economic development and fixing international relations.”

“I expect that [the party] will fix relations with all the Western countries,” he says. “We have been liberated by friends, but we aren’t listening to our friends.”

On the other side, Orges Murseli will vote for the first time in general elections.

“Nothing good has happened so far in Kosovo, only failures,” the 25-year-old says, explaining what pushed him to vote. “There needs to be more regulation and transparency.”

He is going to vote for Vetëvendosje, since he believes that “their leader seems sincere, add the fact that they have never been in power — in contrast to the others who have done nothing.”

“Start from the fact that it can’t get any worse now. Progress can happen only if they don’t steal and there is no more misuse and negligence.”

Nderim Alija

A government with Vetëvendosje in charge needs to have sport as its priority too.

“School is not for everybody, sport is not for everybody and so on,” he says. “Thus, there need to be spaces where everyone can show their talent.”

However, he adds that Vetëvendosje seems to him more like a hope, but he isn’t sure if they can fundamentally change things in Kosovo.

By contrast, Nderim Alija is sure that in case Vetëvendosje wins, things will start to improve.

“Start from the fact that it can’t get any worse now,” says the 22-year-old. “Progress can happen only if they don’t steal and there is no more misuse and negligence. Vetëvendosje is the best one given our circumstances.”

The law school graduate says that his principles are similar to those of Vetëvendosje, and especially to their program points pertaining justice and social equality.

“When you don’t have a state of the right, you have no developed economy, no workplaces and nothing else — just like it is at the moment,” he says.

Ferizaj. Foto: K2.0

But the institutional failure so-far to raise the average life quality of Kosovars has led some citizens to lose all hopes for a government that will bring changes. Sadush Gashi doesn’t know which political party he is going to vote for, although he will vote to fulfill his obligation as a citizen. The bad economic conditions have brought the 55-year-old to doubt all political parties.

“Every party is working only for themselves,” he says. “Only when they need our votes, they come to our door.”

The eight-member family is one of the thousands of families who live in extreme poverty. They all live on Sadush’s income, a maximum of 250 euros, which he earns from from-time-to-time as a manual worker, since there are often days when nobody calls him.

“We clean chimneys, canalizations or wastewater,” Sadush angrily says. “Nobody has ever helped us, the workers who stay at the Big Mosque in Ferizaj, we are just an obstacle to them… We will be left all alone.”

Breaking bastions?

The second-largest population center in Kosovo is Prizren. In the last three national elections, PDK won. In 2017, as part of the PAN coalition, they got over 30% of votes, followed by Vetëvendosje and the coalition led by LDK. In the previous two elections, the results for the first place were the same, whereas LDK came in the second place, and Vetëvendosje in third place.

These results have led the exponents of the party to often call Prizren “PDK’s Jerusalem.” However, in the last local elections they lost their right to govern the city, since Vetëvendosje came first.

"If they realized only 30% of their promises in the first mandate, that would be enough".

Vatilda Shukriu

But is Prizren going to be immalleable in its vote in the October 6 elections?

Valtida Shukriu has voted in all elections since she was 18 years old. The 34-year-old lawyer feels “totally disappointed” with how the country has been governed. She says that the party that she used to vote for “was part of the government for a while,” disappointing her even more since “they governed badly.” But she explains immediately that her vote was more “to find the least bad option” and that she has continuously voted for new figures within the party.

She has decided to change whom she votes for in the Sunday elections.

“I will vote for those who have never been in the government,” she says.

She explains that her decision comes from the fact that she has seen new people accede to the party, who are expected to fight corruption. She believes that in this list of candidates she has found people who are “clean, professional, and above all, they are not millionaires.”

Valtida’s request is that “they realize only 30% of their promises in the first mandate.” That would be enough for her.

She believes that this can be achieved.

Prizren. Foto: K2.0

But Shkëlqim Berisha is sceptical. The 30-year-old, who voted for the first time in the 2017 elections, doesn’t believe that change can come through voting.

“I believed that change doesn’t come from within the system, and I haven’t changed my mind today either,” he says.

However, he points out that he was forced to vote in the previous elections, because he has seen that it is impossible to achieve change while outside of the system,” because of the “inability to organize.”

The political science graduate still doesn’t have any expectations from whomever wins the elections, but this time some minor interventions would be enough to satisfy him.

“At least for some people to be removed from positions, since they have made themselves comfortable there,” says Shkëlqim. “Their departure will create spaces where the meritocracy can breathe.”

“You have voted but not with the belief that you are doing the right thing”.

Shkëlqim Berisha

Shkëlqim adds that he is still not certain for whom he is going to vote, because according to him there has been a lack of genuine discussions of programs by the political parties.

“Nothing has been presented in detail, they have just talked in the TV debates,” Shkëlqim insists. “There haven’t been detailed [solutions offered].”

He only knows that he isn’t going to vote for the parties whose rhetoric focuses on “nationalistic phrases, ‘big’ politics, that really don’t touch on citizens’ life.”

Priorities of the party programs, according to him, need to be social politics that relate to citizens’ problems, and to workers in particular. He believes that workers are neglected and are only mentioned during campaign periods.

“If any of the parties would have a program for the formation of syndicates in private businesses and would have raised the issues of contracts, respect for timetables, vacations, raising salaries or the issue of injuries and death of workers — which happens a lot to us — and ask for accountability,” says Shkëlqim. “If somebody pushes for this, they could very easily get my vote.”

But he doesn’t believe that such a party exists in Kosovo, therefore he is still in the same position as in 2017.

“You have voted, but not with the belief that you are doing the right thing,” concludes Shkëlqim.

On the other side, Berat Berisha is more optimistic. The waiter, who lives in Germany, has come to Prizren around a week ago and has decided to extend his vacation because of the elections. He has voted only twice before.

“After the war I voted once, as well as in the previous elections,” he says, explaining that he voted for PDK in both cases. “We have been happy with PDK, they have worked. Fixing roads, cities, infrastructure in general has been improved.”

However, this time he has decided to vote for Vetëvendosje.

“It isn’t interesting anymore to only build roads, this phase is over,” he explains. “Now the youth needs to be in charge. We need people who know politics better. Those who are in power, I don’t think they have it in them anymore, they are spent.”

An incident that changed his mind about whom to vote for was the illness of his brother’s wife some time ago. They sent her to a private hospital because they had more faith there, and they found out that the same doctor also works in the public hospital. Additionally, he was disappointed when he found out the price of the medication.

“When we came [from the hospital] my brother told me that this medicine cost him 35 euros,” Berat says. “We have the money to pay, but a family that lives on only 300 euros a month doesn’t have the money for it. The majority of people don’t have the chance to get proper medical treatment.”

People are living in misery, according to him, and that’s why we need a change. K

Feature image: K2.0.