Kosovo - Political Parties
Personalities dominate Kosovo's political scene, political parties have stood for little other than Kosovo's independence. Political parties could operate without restriction or outside interference, but party affiliation played an important role in access to government services and social and employment opportunities. Clan loyalties also play an important, although unofficial, role in political organizations.
Whatever their electoral aspirations, all Kosovo's political parties confront the growing problem of voter apathy. Turnout, measured in absolute terms, has been declining steadily over the decade. The post-independence euphoria among Kosovo Albanians was also waning. Voters express frustration with the political class's inability to make progress on issues of day-to-day concern to them, such as employment and energy. Political parties have been slow to develop issue-based campaigns that address voter concerns.
The main political parties in Kosovo include the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), formerly led by Ibrahim Rugova and now led by Pristina Mayor Isa Mustafa; Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), led by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci; the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), led by former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj; New Kosovo Alliance (AKR), led by Behgjet Pacolli; and Vetevendosje (“Self Determination”), led by Albin Kurti.
In line with earlier public opinion polls, an exit poll in June 2017 by Klan Kosovo TV indicated a coalition of three former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was in the lead with 35-40 percent of votes. The coalition, led by former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, is made up of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of Kadri Veseli, the Initiative for Kosovo, NISMA, of Fatmir Limaj, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AKK), Haradinaj. The three party leaders were major wartime figures. All three had been accused of war crimes but found not guilty by The Hague International Tribunal.
The only contender which credibly promised change was the controversial left-wing party Vetevendosje. This is hardly surprising given Vetevendosje was the only party that did not represent the largely unaccountable, incompetent, and often predatory politico-economic elite that had dominated Kosovo for the past two decades. It is true that Vetevendosje has several problematic traits. In the past legislature it repeatedly resorted to tactics such as throwing tear gas in parliament, and its practice does have clear nationalist overtones
President Ibrahim Rugova wielded unchecked power within the Democratic Party of Kosovo (LDK), effectively naming every LDK official from the president of the Assembly to submunicipal officials. A great deal of Rugova's power derived from his unique personal stature as the de facto father of Kosovo. Tthe LDK was easily the major partner (47 seats) in the governing coalition (65 seats total). The LDK's dominance of the Kosovo political scene translates to control or veto power over three seats (president of Kosovo, Assembly president, and prime minister) on the five-seat Kosovo Albanian final status negotiating team (aka the "Unity Team").
The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) is relatively small, but its Kosovo political footprint spreads far and deep. Created in 2000 by former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) Regional Commander Ramush Haradinaj, the AAK owes its position as junior member of the governing Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK)-AAK coalition to Haradinaj's personal charisma. The party is driven by the force of personality of its leader Haradinaj, whose March 2005 indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and subsequent resignation as prime minister only increased AAK's public popularity among the ethnic Albanian majority.
In 2005 numerous and serious accusations were raised about party-affiliated secret services. These accusations were initially voiced through the media and later in Kosovo Assembly sessions. Reciprocal accusations were made by two largest political parties - the LDK and the PDK. The PDK accused the LDK of having its own secret intelligence service called the SIA (Sigurimi i Atdheut – Homeland Security), while the LDK counter-accused the PDK of having its own intelligence service called SHIK (Shërbimi Informativ i Kosovës – Kosovo Intelligence Service). The parties alleged the existence of political party affiliated secret services operating as illegal mechanisms under the patronage of these parties. Consequently, the relations between the Government and the opposition deteriorated.
By 2007 six Kosovar Albanian political parties had a realistic chance of passing the five-percent parliamentary threshold. The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) hoped to remain the largest party but is struggling to overcome the challenges of incumbency and tailor its message for the first post-Rugova election. The departure from the LDK of its offshoot party, the LDD, and autocratic Democratic League of Dardania (LDD) leader Nexhat Daci, could benefit the LDK in the long run by ridding the party of corruption and cleaning up its image. But the split with the LDD, the death of party founder and President Ibrahim Rugova in 2006, and the challenges of incumbency left the LDK with less support than in previous elections.
Junior coalition partner the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) is trying to stay afloat despite party leader Ramush Haradinaj's absence to stand trial in The Hague and funding shortages caused by the need to pay for his defense. The main opposition parties -- especially the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) -- were developing detailed campaign platforms and planning to run positive campaigns based on their economic and other proposals. Meanwhile, the new parties -- Nexhat Daci's Democratic League of Dardania (LDD) and Bexhet Pacolli's New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) -- were trying to differentiate themselves from others and to clear the threshold to enter parliament. In an uncertain political environment, all parties appeared to be keeping their post-election coalition options open.
The Democratic League of Dardania (LDD) and the Alliance of a New Kosovo (AKR) were best known for their enigmatic leaders, Nexhat Daci and Behgjet Pacolli, leveraged their political celebrity to noteworthy success in Kosovo's Assembly elections in 2007, gaining over 20 seats altogether, but failed to win any municipal assemblies or mayoralties in that year's local elections.
Kosovars headed to the polls on 17 November 2007 for the first election in three years. Voters cast ballots in three elections and, for the first time, had an open list from which to choose members of the central Assembly and municipal assemblies. This also represented the first time they elected their mayors directly. TheAlliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), Kosovo's small but prominent opposition party led by former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, has been singularly focused on returning to power.
The official campaign season for Kosovo's 15 November 2009 municipal elections kicked off on October 15. The once formidable LDK suffered huge municipal losses in 2007, winning only five assemblies and seven mayoral positions. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) would be hard-pressed to hold all sixteen of the mayor's offices it won in its landslide victory of 2007. President Sejdiu's LDK, and, to a lesser extent, Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), would benefit from PDK's inability to repeat its 2007 romp.
Seventy-four political parties and entities are competing in the upcoming elections -- more than 20 of them ethnic Serb -- for mayoralties and municipal assembly seats in 36 municipalities. The November 15 municipal elections were the first in an independent Kosovo and the first administered solely by Kosovo's Central Elections Commission (CEC). In a test of CEC's patience and Kosovo's elections laws, some of Kosovo's most prominent parties, including the senior governing coalition partner the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and the opposition Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), began their campaigns several weeks prior to the official October 15 start date. PDK's junior ruling coalition partner the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and ethnic Albanian businessman Behgjet Pacolli's Alliance for a New Kosovo (AKR) cried foul and formally submitted complaints to the CEC's Elections Complaints and Appeals Commission (ECAC).
Apathy among traditional LDK voters and weak party leadership caused the party's precipitous fall in the polls in 2007 and was the single largest factor behind the sharp decline in overall turnout. No matter what the cause, the result was a drastic reordering of the leadership in Kosovo's municipalities. PDK's big win in 2007 left the party with a number of (vulnerable) seats to defend, in many cases for the first time. In addition, having the lead role in the central government combined with running most of Kosovo's municipalities made PDK the likely target for anti-incumbent public dissatisfaction rooted in concerns about the economy and perceptions that corruption was on the rise.
With elections in four of the "five plus one" majority Kosovo Serb municipalities established under Ahtisaari Plan decentralization (Klokot, Ranilug, Novo Brdo, and Gracanica), the 15 November 2009 elections were a watershed event for Kosovo's Serb population. The high number of Serb parties registered (over 20) and competition between ethnic Serb candidates in races across the nation gave hope for reasonably strong turnout. That said, threats from Serbian parallel structures to take jobs from candidates and increasingly strident calls to boycott the vote did not help.
The Serb parties include more established parties such as the Independent Liberal Party (SLS), the Serbian People's Party (SNS), and the to-date troublesome Serbian Democratic Party of Kosovo and Metohija (SDSKiM), as well as a number of smaller groups and local citizens' initiatives. In 2007, most of Kosovo's ethnic Serbs heeded calls from Belgrade to boycott Kosovo's central and municipal elections because they feared Belgrade's public threats to withdraw Serbian Government benefits and pensions from those who cast ballots. Kosovo Serb political parties appear to be swaying voters with arguments that electoral participation is necessary for Serbs to survive and by divorcing Kosovo's status from the discussion.
Kosovo held runoff mayoral elections in 21 municipalities on 13 December 2009. Preliminary results from the Central Elections Commission (CEC) show that the Prime Minister's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) leads in 11 municipalities. The President's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) led in five races, and leading opposition party the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) led in three. The Serb Independent Liberal Party (SLS) had a commanding lead in its race against PDK in the Serb-majority municipality of Shterpce/Strpce. Generally, it appeared that PDK was still the dominant political party in Kosovo, at this point winning or leading in 16 of the 36 mayoral races. LDK rebounded from its crushing defeat in 2007 and looked like it will win a minimum of 7 municipalities.
In the wake of the December 13 runoffs, three of Kosovo's mayoral elections remain undecided and mired in partisan accusations of electoral fraud between governing coalition partners PDK and LDK. All three mayoral races were competitive contests between incumbent mayors representing Prime Minister Thaci's PDK and challengers from LDK (its partner in an uneasy coalition at the central level).
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