Just four days before Kosovo’s snap parliamentary elections on June 8 2014, the mayors of four municipalities in the northern part of the country – areas dominated by ethnic Serbs – announced that they were reversing their earlier boycott of the process.
That boycott was called, as The Sofia Globe reported earlier, over a number of issues, including the presence of Kosovo state symbols on ballot papers.
How it came about that the boycott was reversed was not immediately apparent, but for those looking for signs of encouragement about the future of Kosovo and Serbia beyond the elections, the change of stance by the ethnic Serbs had to be an important one. Further, the reverse was not a diametric one: the absence of a boycott did not, as one mayor explained, mean that they would encourage people to vote.
So too, in the encouragement stakes, came the clear statement by Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, who said on June 4 that his government would encourage ethnic Serbs to vote in the elections for Kosovo’s assembly.
While also underlining that there were problems about the elections, he said, that “the best choice for the Serb people is participation in the elections”.
The longer-term significance of the Kosovo elections is not just in the issue that sparked them, the proposal for Kosovo to have its own armed forces, but also in the implications for the Euro-Atlantic prospects both of Serbia and of Kosovo.
Notwithstanding Serbia’s oft-repeated reaffirmation of its refusal to recognise Kosovo as an independent state, achieving smooth progress after the April 2013 EU-brokered agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is important for Belgrade’s EU ambitions.
It is against this background that Vučić’s call has to be seen.
For all the encouragement that may be gleaned in the final days before voting begins in Kosovo on June 8, the process has not been untroubled.
June 4 saw an incident in which Democratic Party of Kosovo hard-line activists prevented an LDK electoral rally in the village of Brobonic. The incident was resolved after intervention by Kosovo police.
The same day, there was another incident, in which a school administrator in Rahovec declined to grant access to the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo for a rally planned to be held there. The administrator was arrested, while meanwhile the planned rally was moved to another venue.
In this election, as one commentator has argued, there is another noticeable trend – the issues are much less about the armed conflicts of the past than about rival economic programmes; even if these are copied from those of European Union member states. The same commentary argues, however, political parties competing in Kosovo’s elections are falling short on the specifics of these programmes and the issues core to Kosovo’s economic problems.
In the June 8 elections, 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 – 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. Currently, polls suggest that Hashim Thaci’s PDK is again set for the largest share of votes.
(Photo of Mitrovica bridge: Orlovic)