Kosovo's mediocre political opposition

After almost five years in government, the Democratic Party of Kosovo continues to lead in public opinion polls. Photo: AP/Opposition

PRISHTINA, June 10, 2013 – Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi is not having a hard time staying in power since his Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) first won the national elections in 2007. After almost five years in government, the PDK continues to lead in public opinion polls. Numerous corruption scandals within its own cabinet and contentious privatization deals have overshadowed the government’s infrastructure investments, technical EU integration progress and gradual although unpopular reconciliation process with Serbia and integration of northern Kosovo Serbs. National elections are planned for next year, 2014, but the current power constellation is not likely to change with the challengers being a mediocre and uncoordinated political opposition.

The largest opposition party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), lacks strong and consolidated leadership ever since its renowned leader and Kosovo’s first postwar president, Ibrahim Rugova, passed away in 2006. Rugova was the unquestionable leader not only of the LDK, but he also managed to win local and national elections with a wide margin. Nevertheless, he failed to develop strong leaders who could inherit the reins of the LDK. After his passing, the party leadership split in two factions – with one forming a rival political party, the Democratic League of Dardania (LDD). The large LDK electorate eventually lost faith in LDK’s leadership and nowadays does not turn out in elections in the same number. The power struggle within the party continues even today with the former LDK chairman and former president of Kosovo, Fatmir Sejdiu, who has created a political grouping that continuously defies current party leader Isa Mustafa.

The Vetëvendosje (self-determination) Movement, the second largest opposition party is the most active, vocal, and objurgatory. Its program is idealistic, advocating wide-reaching social welfare and nationalist policies. Vetëvendosje (VV) does not believe in Kosovo’s state and multiethnic character. It advocates unification with Albania as the only way to overcome all other social issues, and strives to instigate radical social and political changes through unorthodox campaigns, including violent protests and sit-ins.

VV’s radical behavior culminated just last week when the party demonstrated against the ratification of the resolution on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Party activists blocked all the entrances to the Parliament of Kosovo, threw paint at Kosovo Police, and slightly injured the Ambassador of the United States while she was attempting to pass through the crowd of protesters. Furthermore, while the parliament started the voting process for the resolution, Vetëvendosje MPs obstructed the session by snatching the microphone of the parliament speaker and forcing a subsequent recess. The resolution was only adopted by majority vote after parliament security ousted Vetëvendosje MPs from the session.

The movement is not expected to grow its electorate particularly because of this form of radical activism but rather only maintain the support of the nationalist faction of the population – representing a maximum of about 10 to 15 percent of the electorate. An additional VV constituency may come from voters disillusioned with the established political parties, a number that hovers around 5%.

The third largest opposition party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), continues to remain limited to the Dukagjini region, as its voter base is mostly concentrated there. AAK is also considered the political party of the Haradinaj family, whose leader, Ramush Haradinaj, was the Kosovo Liberation Army commander in the Dukagjini area during the 1998-1999 war against Serbia. Mr. Haradinaj was acquitted of war crimes at the Hague tribunal last winter. Among the central leaders at AAK is Daut Haradinaj, Ramush’s brother. The AAK recently held its party convention but failed to attract new public figures and leaders who could bring votes. This will make it difficult for the AAK to break the public perception of being a marginal political party, although Ramush’s return should produce a moderate jolt in the party’s support.    

The opposition parties have offered no clear development alternative to the incumbent PDK-led government. Besides their fierce criticism of government policies, the stated goals of the opposition seem to begin and end with throwing the rascals out. Vetëvendosje, while offering clear policy alternatives, negates their importance by focusing their energy on larger populist issues. These populist issues do not seem to resonate with Kosovo’s people, whose turnout for VV’s protests around these issues is constantly declining. Against this backdrop, it does not seem as though much will change at the polls. PDK will likely continue to remain in the lead, but may end up creating a new coalition government—the abovementioned AAK is a potential minority suitor.

However, the current nature of political pressure will not adequately improve governance in Kosovo. Besides a government’s own abilities and prerogatives, a credible, productive and active political opposition reinforces good governance. Until that opposition forms, Kosovo citizens will be less satisfied with those looking to enter government than they are with those in power.

 

 


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Pleurat Halili

Pleurat has written international news for the Communities since 2012. He is an entrepreneur, former UN staff member and a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.  He is interested in economics, politics, media, the European Union, and Southeastern Europe.

 

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