By Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik

On December 12, 2010, Kosovo held its first general election since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008. The elections were a test of Kosovo's democratic institutions - unfortunately, they are unlikely to be remembered as a resounding success.

Allegations of fraud and corruption have resulted in re-runs in several municipalities, and according to Kosovo's Central Electoral Commission (CEC), official results will not be known until February 2011. In addition to this, more bad news followed when, on December 14, Dick Marty of the Council of Europe submitted a report which accused Kosovo's incumbent Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of involvement in the smuggling and illegal organ trade. Days later, a political activist from Kosovo's Bosniak minority was killed during a political campaign related directly to the election, and an Albanian youth was stabbed to death in Malishevo, allegedly due to political disagreements between the town's two major political parties.

Kosovo has always had a Euro-Atlantic orientation - it is officially a potential candidate for accession to the European Union (EU), and a part of the EU's integration strategy for the Western Balkans. As a result, its first post-independence elections were of extreme importance, both for the country and for the international community and organisations that have dedicated a significant amount of resources and energy into stabilising an independent Kosovo.

Certainly, the elections were met with enthusiasm - weeks before, on social media networks and popular Kosovan youth blogs such as Kosovo 2.0, there was a sense of excitement and optimism. International observers had high hopes for election day, and it appeared that not many people inKosovo itself were expecting any significant problems. However, what was supposed to be a quiet election, which would not dramatically change the incumbent government's structure, took a turn for the worse.

Past Parties

In autumn 2010, the ruling coalition collapsed and new elections were organised in only forty days. This time around, a similar composition of the government was anticipated, with the majority of votes going to Hashim Thaci's party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).

The CEC listed twenty-nine political parties and already formed coalitions standing in the election. The main contenders were the major parties of Kosovo politics. The PDK, which led the coalition government before the elections with Thaci at the helm, was formed in 1999 from the political wing of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The PDK has traditionally been the largest party in Kosovo, followed closely by its main rival, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). It was formerly headed by Ibrahim Rugova, the leader behind Kosovo's peaceful resistance movement in the 1990s. The LDK was the junior partner with the PDK in the pre-December 2010 coalition government. Another competitor is the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), formerly headed by KLA leader Ramush Haradinaj until his indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on war crimes charges in 2005. He has since been acquitted and returned to his post as president of the party.

Aside from the three main contenders, several smaller parties were also in the running in the December election: New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), founded by wealthy businessman Behgjet Pacolli, and the Democratic League of Dardania (LDD), an LDK splinter group. However, in this political landscape of predominantly centre-right parties, populated significantly by former KLA leaders and businessmen, two small and as yet not so influential parties stand out. Levizja Vetevendosje, led by activist Albin Kurti, is a movement that evolved into a political party - its main platform being self determination. It opposes the presence of international organisations in Kosovo, such as the EU's Rule of Law mission, EULEX. Fyrma a Re (FER), led by Harvard-educated Shpend Ahmeti, emerged as a political party in October 2010, and consists of leading figures in Kosovo's civil society, including a number of women. Its platform is anti-corruption, health and education. Kosovo's Albanian parties are competing for one hundred seats in the assembly; in addition to this, twenty seats are reserved for minority representation. Out of Kosovo's estimated 2.4 million inhabitants, seven percent are estimated to be Serbs and five percent 'other' minorities - Bosniak, Turk, Roma, Egyptian and Ashkali communities.

There are several Serb parties, the majority of which have their headquarters in Serb-only enclaves. In the pre-December 2010 government, minority ministers were included in most parliamentary committees, but were particularly well represented in the Integration and Refugee Return group. Historically, Serb participation in Kosovo elections is a mixed picture. Politicians from Serbia proper discourage Kosovo Serbs from voting, but some local parties, such as the largest Independent Liberal party (SLS), campaign vigorously for Serb participation.

Mistakes Made

In principle, Kosovo was very well set up to run free and fair elections: an active and interesting landscape of political parties and coalitions; a guaranteed minority representation, a large number of young and energetic voters, and on top of that, the watchful eye of the international community's election observers.

Since December 12 proceeded without incident, all appeared to have gone well. In fact, Hashim Thaci celebrated his victory on December 13, and the EU's Catherine Ashton and Herman von Roumpoy issued a statement congratulating Kosovo on its well run election. But the very same day allegations of mass electoral fraud began to emerge, with electoral observers, NGOs and foreign diplomats all expressing their concern.

The first indication that something was amiss was the report by the CEC that the municipality of Skenderaj sawa 94 percent voter turnout, and Glogovac 86 percent. In 2009, the CEC reports, the national average turnout for local elections was 47 percent. In addition to these extremely high figures, the respected Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) uploaded films onto the Balkan Insight website on December 13, one of which appeared to show an election official in a village in Skenderaj changing already cast ballots during the vote count. Across Kosovo, teams of election observers also commented on voter lists which appeared to list deceased and émigrés. They also observed group or family voting, and inaccurate candidate lists.

The fraud allegations led to a number of political parties and civil society actors contesting the results and filing 170 official complaints. As a result, forty percent of polling stations held recounts, and re-runs were arranged for several municipalities: Skenderaj, Glogovac, Decan and Mitrovica. A number of polling stations in Lipljan and Malisevo municipalites held reruns throughout December. Of these, only Mitrovica (that is, only Mitrovica's northern part), lie in the Serb-controlled North.

Ethnic Divisions

In line with previous election patterns, it was anticipated that the PDK would win thirty to forty percent of the vote, forming a coalition with one of the smaller parties. Early exit polls broadly followed this trend and preliminary results on December 13 indicated a 33.5 percent of the vote for the PDK and 23.6 percent for the LDK. However, the re-runs in Skenderaj and Glogovac may yet have an impact on the final results. It would appear that the voter turnout in these municipalities fell to 62 and 59 percent although this effect cannot be ascertained until the official results are published in February.

Despite legal provisions made for Kosovo's minorities, communities still tend to live in mono-ethnic villages and neighbourhoods. The political landscape does nothing to challenge this view. For instance, there are no Serbs in the PDK or LDK, and there are no Albanians in Serb parties such as the Serbian National Party (SNS). Provided that Serb parties are participating in elections, they tend to do well in predominantly Serb regions.

In the December election, it is reported that voter turn out in Leposavic, a Serb-dominanted municipality in Kosovo's north, was only 1.5 percent. Kosovo's north, where a majority of the Serb population lives, has operated on a system of 'parallel institutions' financed by Belgrade since 2000. Serbia has a strong political influence there, and its Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija, which deals only with local Kosovo Serb issues, regularly urges Kosovo Serbs to boycott Kosovo elections and institutions.

Whilst in the north this seems to have been a message taken seriously, elsewhere in Kosovo, there is strong indication that Serbs are not following the Belgrade line. In the south, Serbs tend to live in much smaller and more isolated enclaves than north Mitrovica and Leposavic, which border Serbia. According to recent reports from the International Crisis Group, they have already started to take a more pragmatic view of participation in Kosovo institutions, and it is reported that Serb voter turnout in the south is 'significant', but even in Serb-dominated southern enclaves it is expected to be much lower than the national average.

Nevertheless, there is an indication that the general politics of Serb political parties may be changing. Whilst re-runs were being held, the Serb SLS party expressed its wish to form a coalition with Hashim Thaci. This could perhaps be the single most significant development to emerge from this election. In addition to the widespread boycotts of Kosovo elections, Serbs' guaranteed representation in parliament could have resulted in complacency that led to low turnout. But, the mere suggestion by a major Serb party of the possibility of forming a coalition may alter the perception of Kosovo Serbs - rather than isolating themselves in Serb enclaves, they may finally feel that they form an integral part of independent Kosovo. It is even more encouraging that the largest Serb political party does not bill itself in ethnic terms - its party logo of yellow stars on a blue background is reminiscent both of the new Kosovo flag and the EULEX mission.

Importantly, the election revealed a lot about the state of Kosovo's democracy via its media and its handling of election fraud. Pro-Thaci media, such as RIK, the public service broadcaster Radio Television Kosovo, TV21 and Express newspaper, which have a monopoly on the media landscape, have not only published the preliminary election results as a statement of fact, but have generally ignored accusations of electoral fraud, reporting that the election was held in a fair and regular manner.

Fortunately for Kosovo, the media boasts a number of quality outlets such as the daily Koha Ditore. Other publications, such as Zeri and Vetevendosje's eponymous paper, were very active in publishing fraud allegations and criticism of the international community. Kosovo's diverse media is encouraging for the country's future democratic outlook, but less encouraging is Thaci's lack of engagement with fraud allegations and his supporters' media doing the same.

The election has demonstrated that Kosovo's political landscape, whilst active and lively, is virtually monolithic, making it difficult for non-mainstream, non-minority parties to have a seat in parliament or exert much influence.

Contemporary politics in Kosovo has largely been shaped by the 1999 war and the Albanian struggle for independence. Such deeply traumatic and difficult times inevitably affect the development of 'normal' politics and functioning democratic institutions - this is unlikely to change in this generation. For the Serbs, living through this period has resulted in a politics of fear and isolation, whilst for Albanians the focus on independence has displaced all other political concerns. Now that statehood has been achieved, Kosovo's politicians must play catch up - the people of Kosovo need progress, transparency and democracy.

But, the political leaders of Kosovo have not yet taken obligations of statehood and democracy seriously, as Thaci has repeatedly demonstrated with his refusal to address electoral problems. Kosovo has a young, educated and increasingly well-informed population. Eventually this generation will demand accountability and maturity from its politicians. The current dissatisfaction with precisely this issue is evident - Vetevendosje, which has a strong support base amongst the young, is estimated to have gained twelve percent of the vote.

The overall effect of the elections - final results pending - is unlikely to have a significant effect on the overall political landscape in Kosovo. Even if the PDK and LDK lose some of their support, they are still likely to dominate. Furthermore, the broadly similar agendas of other political parties in Kosovo will also have no bearing on any significant changes after the final results are in. Kosovo politics is still dominated by 'the old guard' - men who fought for independence, or who have inherited ideological legacies of that period. Kosovo's young, bright politicians are mainly confined to the margins, and due to the dominance of the pre-independence politics, they are unlikely to be in a position to exert much influence any time soon. The main political change may come from an interesting coalition, but whilst this would go some way towards easing ethnic tensions and making north Kosovo feel more included in the state, there is a question mark over whether the PDK, or any other Albanian party, would be willing to form a coalition with the Serbs.

(Dr. Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Aston University.)


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