Campaigning is underway in Kosovo ahead of its snap June 8 parliamentary elections, with all the predictable complexities that means.
On May 28, the official first day of the campaign period, when political party leaders embarked on the campaign trail heavily armed with lavish promises, mayors of four ethnic Serb-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo suspended all election activities because of a dispute with decisions by the Central Election Commission.
As ever in Kosovo since its February 2008 unilateral declaration of independence, much of the future rides not only on bilateral relations with Serbia, but also in relations with ethnic Serbs in the country.
The mayors of the four municipalities objections were on several grounds, from decisions on the membership of voting centre committees, which they said ran counter to the ethnic makeup of those municipalities, to the presence of Kosovo “state symbols” on ballot papers. This latter objection is linked to Serbian refusal to recognise Kosovo as an independent state.
The mayors said that unless their objections were resolved, they would boycott the process altogether – a reverse for those in Kosovo and internationally who are hoping that the election will pave the way for harmonious integration of ethnic Serbs.
The dispute about the status of Kosovo is a continuing one and was always certain to be a theme in elections, however various players view the provisions for the political integration of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo’s June 8 2014 election process.
However, there is a further issue in the foreground of current politics in Kosovo, the very one that led to the snap elections in the first place – Pristina’s plan for Kosovo to have its own military.
It was this issue that led to the dissolution of Kosovo’s parliament in early May, when ethnic Serb members denied the quorum of ethnic minorities required for a vote on establishing a military.
Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci responded at the time, “a parliament that cannot launch its own army should not continue,” and agreement was reached to go to snap elections. In a vote of 90 to four, the 120-member assembly agreed to dissolve itself.
Now, Kosovo’s about 1.78 million voters (of which 33 735 would be first-time voters) – going by the figures announced by the Central Election Commission on May 28 – are being presented with a choice of 18 political parties, seven civic initiatives, an independent candidate and four coalitions.
According to local media, quoting the CEC, nine ethnic Albanian, five Serb, six Bosniak and three Roma lists have been submitted, with the ethnic Turk, Gorani, Ashkali and Egyptian (in Kosovo’s history, an equivalent term for Roma people) communities each submitting two lists.
In all, just more than 2000 candidates will be competing for the Kosovo assembly’s 120 seats.
In the 2010 Kosovo assembly elections, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) got 31.2 per cent, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) 24.6 per cent, Self-Determination 12.6 per cent and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo 11.04 per cent, with voter turnout at 47.5 per cent.
PDK leader Thaci’s promises have included a fund of 500 million euro for agricultural reform, the creation of 50 000 new jobs in agriculture, and the creation of 200 000 news jobs overall.
LDK leader Isa Mustafa has promised even more – a tripling of the budget for agriculture in a four-year term of his government, investment of 1.2 billion euro in agriculture, the creation of 120 000 jobs in agriculture, lifting customs charges and VAT on machinery and other imports related to the dairy industry.
As may be gathered from such promises, agriculture currently accounts for 20 per cent of Kosovo’s GDP.
Thaci is also seeking to run on his party’s record. “We have successfully finalised our two big commitments, freedom of our country and to make Kosovo independent and sovereign. We’re working to become part of Nato, the European Union and the UN. The first two missions were for the state, our new mission is for our citizens,” he told a May 28 rally in Pristina.
Mustafa: “Our motto ‘Only we can do it’, means that only we can achieve the victory of democracy in Kosovo, only we can offer this country a proper development, wellbeing for our citizens, opportunities for businesses to work without being oppressed, because without economic development, we will not be able to develop our state and we will not be able to have a future”.
The European Union is to deploy 60 election observers, the US embassy also will be deploying observers, as will a number of international organisations.
With ethnic Serbs having guaranteed seats in the assembly (2013 was the first time that voting was held in ethnic Serb areas, in local elections, a process that did not pass without some problems) there have been calls at international level for active participation.
Delivering a regular report to the UN Security Council on May 27, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Kosovo, Farid Zarif, said: “I take this opportunity to call on all Kosovo residents, particularly members of the Kosovo Serb community, to take part in the forthcoming elections and exercise their democratic franchise”.
On Serbia-Kosovo bilateral relations, Zarif said that in spite of the slower pace recently of implementing the aims of the EU-brokered political dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, the two sides had “narrowed their remaining differences” and he hoped that once Kosovo’s June 8 parliamentary elections were over, this dialogue would resume without delay.
“It is hoped that, once the forthcoming electoral process in Kosovo is complete and new authorities are in place, the dialogue will resume without delay and a crucial pending matter – the establishment of the Community/Association of Serb municipalities – will be tackled expeditiously, along with other issues of mutual interest and concern,” Zarif said.
– With reporting by the Independent Balkan News Agency.