In-depth | Elections2021

VV and Vjosa Osmani confirm joint election list

Kurti PM candidate, Osmani aims to be president.

Vetëvendosje (VV) and acting President Vjosa Osmani have announced that they have formally signed an agreement to run on a joint list in the upcoming general election scheduled for February 14. 

The news, which has long been rumored, was announced in the hall of the Kosovo Assembly on Thursday (January 14).

Osmani, who left the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) last year after refusing to be part of its political manoeuvrings, will have a number of candidates on the joint list under the banner of her recently announced civil initiative. She said that more details on the number of candidates and their identities will be revealed on Saturday (January 16), the deadline for registering candidates with the Central Election Commission (CEC).

VV leader and former Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced that he will be the prime-ministerial candidate of the joint list, although there is still some uncertainty as to whether his candidacy will be accepted by the CEC. 

“What we achieved today reflects the will of the citizens of Kosovo.”

Vjosa Osmani

Osmani said she is ultimately aiming to be “re-legitimized” in the post of president, which she has held in an acting capacity since Hashim Thaçi’s resignation in November last year. The position of president will not be on the ballot paper directly, but will be voted for by Kosovo’s newly elected deputies following the February snap election.

“2020 has shown that Kosovo needs a new prime minister, but also a new [woman] president,” Kurti said in the press conference.

“We are determined to fight organized crime and corruption. We are determined to defend the country’s constitution. We are determined for a Kosovo where everyone is ensured a dignified life,” Osmani added. “We are one month away from the elections and what we achieved today reflects the will of the citizens of Kosovo.”

Kurti secured a record number of personal votes as VV won the previous elections held in October 2019, while Osmani was the second most popular candidate as she led LDK to second place. A VV-LDK coalition government that was widely dubbed “the government of hope” was ultimately brought down after just 52 days by a motion of no confidence instigated by Osmani’s then party colleagues, although she refused to support it.  

After the Constitutional Court ruled that a new government could be formed without new elections, an LDK-led coalition headed by Avdullah Hoti scraped into power by a single vote in the Assembly in June. However a new Constitutional Court decision in December ruled that the vote was invalid — since it had relied on the support of a deputy who had been convicted with a prison sentence in the past three years — and ordered new elections.

Who’s running with whom? 

The VV-Vjosa Osmani joint list isn’t the only instance of political forces joining together ahead of the February 14 poll. 

LDK is set to enter a joint list with the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), which managed to secure two deputies in the 2019 election. Naim Murseli, advisor to AKR’s leader Behgjet Pacolli, told that his party will have 10 candidates on the joint list, which will be headed by outgoing Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti.

Two formal pre-election coalitions registered with the CEC by the January 8 deadline. VAKAT, comprising of minority parties Demokratska Stranka Bošnjaka (DSB) and Demokratska Stranka Vatan (DSV), and ZAJEDNO, comprising of minority parties Pokret za Gora (PG) and Građanska Inicijativa Gore (GIG). 

A rumored pre-election coalition between the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and Nisma did not materialize so both parties are set to run alone this time. PDK came third in the 2019 election and moved into opposition after more than a decade in power, while Nisma — which formed in 2014 after a split within PDK — just inched above the minimum 5% threshold required to secure deputies following a series of legal challenges.

“I have the honor of being the first on the list ... we do not have a candidate for prime minister.”

Ramush Haradinaj, AAK

Fatmir Limaj, head of Nisma, told T7’s Pressing show that he had heard from hundreds of people who had wanted to see PDK and Nisma coming together: “There has been a constant interest and demand from war comrades and invalids, etc. to find a common path and build a common path,” he said. “This has unfortunately not been done.”

PDK’s list will be headed by acting head of the party Enver Hoxhaj, after Kadri Veseli stepped back from all political roles in November to defend charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.

Ramush Haradinaj, leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), has said he will head his party’s list but that AAK will not have a prime-ministerial candidate. Instead, he has announced his intention to compete for the position of president. 

“I have the honor of being the first on the list,” he told a press conference on Wednesday (January 13). “I am the candidate from the Alliance for the president of the country; we do not have a candidate for prime minister, so I am not a candidate for prime minister.”

Meanwhile, AAK’s former pre-election coalition partner from the previous elections, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), has said it will not be running this time around. 

Spokesperson Frashër Krasniqi said that one of the reasons is the fact that since PSD began its political reorganization and reconceptualization, it has not had time to unveil its political project to become an electoral project. PSD formed following a 2018 split in VV but leader Shpend Ahmeti was one of a number of senior figures to resign after PSD failed to secure a single deputy in 2019.

Brewing controversies

The date of the election was only set a little over a week ago, but two controversies are already brewing. 

The first is around the eligibility of various potential deputy candidates to stand, following the Constitutional Court ruling that triggered the elections in the first place. The December 21 decision stated that Kosovo’s Law on General Elections “states clearly and explicitly that no person can be a candidate for deputy for elections to the Assembly, if he/she has been convicted of a criminal offense by a final court decision in the last three years.”

However, there has been criticism of the Constitutional Court decision from lawyers and civil society members who say that the decision is “arbitrary” and “political.” 

Many analysts have suggested that the decision could disqualify leading VV figures — including leader Kurti — who were convicted of using offensive weapons after they set off tear gas in an attempt to stop the Assembly approving a controversial border deal with Montenegro and establishing an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities in 2015.

In January 2018, Kurti was sentenced to an 18 month sentence, conditional for two years, and the Court of Appeal confirmed the Basic Court’s decision with a final verdict in September 2018.

The CEC is due to complete the process of certifying political entities for the upcoming election by January 22.

Diaspora disenfranchised?

The second controversy surrounds the CEC’s decision to add an additional verification step to the voter registration process for people applying to vote from outside of Kosovo. 

A decision taken on January 11 states that “the CEC will verify the process of application for registration by contacting all applications through the phone”; and, “If the applicant does not pick up the phone, their application will be rejected.”

There has previously been criticism from some of the approximately 400,000 eligible voters living outside of Kosovo about the already arduous voter registration process for people outside Kosovo. Many view the latest decision by the CEC as an attempt to further disenfranchise them.

Although record numbers of diaspora voters registered ahead of the 2019 election, only around half of those who applied to vote were able to successfully mail in their voting packages; the rest were refused because they did not meet the criteria or did not manage to mail their ballots in time.

Osmani reacted to the CEC’s decision by sharing on Twitter a letter she had sent to the commission’s head, Valdete Daka, in which she asked her to “reconsider the rationale behind the decision.” The Tweet read: “The right to vote cannot be conditional on a phone call. It is a sacred and fundamental right, which we should protect at any cost.”

Questions have also been asked about the capacity of the CEC to conduct so many phone calls in such a short space of time. 

Vetëvendosje — which received 45% of the votes from outside of Kosovo in 2019 — and diaspora NGO Germin filed separate complaints to the Election Complaints and Appeals Panel (ECAP), in which they argued that the move was a violation of diaspora voters’ rights. ECAP rejected both complaints, referring to the Law on General Elections which says, “A decision of the Commission is not subject to appeal, except as may be expressly provided for in this law.”

In the wake of the immediate backlash against its decision, the following day the CEC published a subsequent decision, detailing the steps that would be taken when attempting to verify voters from outside Kosovo. 

The January 12 decision notes that in the first instance, an attempt will be made to call the applicant during Kosovo working hours. If this fails, further attempts will be made to call during the working hours of the country in which the applicant resides, and failing that, further attempts will be made outside of working hours. 

In addition to concerns about the efficacy of verifying voters by telephone, questions have also been asked about the technical and human resources capacity of the CEC to conduct so many phone calls in such a short space of time. 

With the application period for registering as a voter outside Kosovo beginning on January 13 and ending at 18:00 local time on January 21, commission staff have just an eight-day window to make what could potentially amount to tens of thousands of phone calls. The CEC received over 40,000 voter registrations for the 2019 elections

The only reference to a telephone call on the page of the CEC’s website that sets out the registration process for voters outside Kosovo is in a single line — added in recent days — which notes that “The Central Election Commission will notify you of the status of your application by email or telephone number.” It is not clear if this relates to voter verification or another step of the registration process.

The official 10-day election campaign is set to begin on February 3 and end on February 12.

Feature image: K2.0.

This article was initially published as a breaking news story on 14/01/21 and was updated the same day with additional information.