Kosovo is heading towards political and generational change | International

A Kosovar Albanian woman casts her vote at a Pristina polling station this Sunday.
A Kosovar Albanian woman casts her vote at a Pristina polling station this Sunday.VALDRIN XHEMAJ / EFE

Kosovo is heading towards political and generational change, according to the results of the exit polls of this Sunday’s elections, released after the polls closed at 7:00 p.m. (the same in mainland Spain). They award a clear victory –although less than what previous polls predicted– to Vetevendosje (Self-determination), a left-wing nationalist party boosted by the youth vote that has made the banner of the fight against corruption and nepotism, evils that it attributes to two decades of governments of the traditional parties that emerged from the guerrillas who fought for the split in the nineties. It would achieve 41.8% of the votes and 52 deputies. The absolute majority is at 61, so you will have to negotiate.

In second place, with 16.5% and 20 deputies, would be the Democratic Party, which was in government for 20 years without interruption; and third, with 15.2% and 19 seats, the Democratic League, of the center-right and currently in power. The Alliance for the Future, another party of ex-guerrillas, would obtain 7.2% and nine deputies. Kosovar Albanian parties are running for 100 of 120 seats in the parliament of this former Serbian province that declared its independence in 2008, recognized by some 100 countries. The rest are reserved for minorities: 10 for Serbs (all will predictably go to the Serbian List, connected to Belgrade) and 10 for other minorities, such as Roma, Bosniaks and Turks.

These early elections, the third in two years, have been held by decision of the Constitutional Court, after it was discovered that a decisive vote (it was approved with 61 out of 120) to name the one who ended up being prime minister since June, Avdullah Hoti, should not have counted because that deputy had previously been convicted of fraud.

Of the 2.6 million Kosovars, two thirds of them in the country and one abroad, about 1.8 million were summoned this Sunday to the polls. The turnout was 46.9%, almost three points more than in the 2019 elections, despite the pandemic and a cold wave that has left the streets covered in snow and a thermal sensation of 14 degrees below zero.

The coincidence of snow and election day has left traffic jams in Pristina, with the taxi switchboards collapsed, and curious images, with parents heading to the polling station pulling the sled in which their children were riding. Others entered to cast their vote with a rose in hand, because it was also Saint Valentine.

At the exit of the voting center located in the Faculty of Economics of the University of Pristina, the supporters of Vetevendosje barely hid the euphoria that the previous polls gave them, which predicted around 50% of the votes of the Kosovar Albanians. A sentiment that was summed up half jokingly half seriously Ina, a 25-year-old hotel worker: “I voted the same as all of Kosovo.” Or Vigan, 36, who was changing options in each election, without much enthusiasm, until the explosion of Vetevendosje, whom he has voted, this time convinced, for the second time.

Rina, a young woman from Pristina coming out of making a null vote, was outraged at this boom: “Is the alternative a nationalist party? Is the answer to Kosovo’s problems nationalism? Really? I lived through the war and I know what nationalist ideas generate ”. Or Merdite Sekirizqa, 35, who had just bet on the Democratic League with the confidence that it will improve the situation of single mothers like her. “[El líder de Vetevendosje, Albin] Kurti has all the traits of a would-be dictator. That me, me, me … wants to do everything, and everything, “he said as he took his son by the hand.

After depositing his ballot in the ballot box, Kurti had encouraged “to vote with love for the country” to “return sovereignty to the people.” If the results of the polls are confirmed, Vetevendosje increases by fifteen percentage points the percentage of votes (25.5%) that gave him the victory in October 2019, closely followed by the then opposition Democratic League (24.8% ). They formed a coalition government – after long negotiation – that made Kurti prime minister. The experience barely lasted 50 days: the League broke up and Kurti lost a vote of no confidence.

This maneuver is precisely what the Kosovar Albanians have punished this Sunday at the polls and explains the great increase in votes for Vetevendosje in less than a year and a half. “It is a vote for Vetevendosje, but also a protest for what happened. The feeling was then generated that the will of the citizens was not being respected, ”says Jeta Krasniqi, a senior researcher at the Kosovo Democratic Institute, the local branch of the NGO Transparency International, in a hotel in Pristina.

For many, it was irresponsible to bring down a government at such a critical time in the pandemic – which has caused some 1,500 deaths in Kosovo – as the end of March 2020. “A moment for the history books by a deplorable and irresponsible political class ”, described it at the time the editor-in-chief of the digital publication Kosovo 2.0, Kisses Luci. For others, it was also a trick of the establishment promoted by Richard Grenell, the then United States special envoy for the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations, in his wish that the Donald Trump Administration obtain a handshake photo that Kurti – who embraces a tough stance in dialogue with Serbia – He refused to give. Half a year later, the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, and Hoti signed a mainly economic agreement in the White House before the American leader. The then prime minister came, instead of the president and ex-guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci, who could not travel because of the accusation that he committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Kosovo war. Thaci resigned last November when the Special Court for Kosovo – based in The Hague, but part of the Kosovar judicial system – upheld the indictment.

Thaci’s resignation opened the doors of the presidency on an interim basis to a key figure in these elections: Vjosa Osmani, symbol of a new political generation. In the previous elections, she was the woman with the most votes in the country’s history as a candidate for prime minister, then with the Democratic League. He left the party to present himself this time with Vetevendosje, predictably attracting young and female votes. She is 38 years old; Kurti, 45, and they appear together on various election posters.

During the campaign, shortened by the pandemic to just ten days, Kurti based much of his message on the need to achieve an absolute majority. “Only a victory with more than 61 deputies can guarantee the application of the desired changes and much-needed progress,” he insisted. According to exit polls, Vetevendosje will have to agree. Not only for Kurti to become prime minister, having failed to achieve an absolute majority, but also because the agreement of two-thirds of the chamber is required to appoint a president, possibly forcing him to give up that position. Some analysts even foresee that the lack of agreement on the presidency will lead to new early elections in a country in which governments last two years on average and no one has completed their term since the declaration of independence.

“The first challenge is to reconstitute national leadership after the events of last year – the fall of the Kurti government and the imputation of Thaci, among others,” explains Marko Prelec, expert analyst in the Balkans of the think-tank International Crisis Group. “Nothing else – the dialogue with Belgrade, not national reforms, not European integration – can go a long way without a consolidated national leadership with a clear strategy.”

One of the paradoxes of these elections is precisely that the president aspires to a seat, but it is difficult to maintain the head of state, while Kurti could in principle become prime minister, but not a deputy. He is legally prohibited from doing so because less than three years have passed since he was convicted of launching a tear gas canister at Parliament in protest at the border demarcation with Montenegro and the creation of an autonomous association of municipalities with a Serbian majority that voted.