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How Political Instability Has Felled Kosovo’s Governments – Analysis

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Kosovo will hold another general election next month after the current parliament was dissolved prematurely – the fourth in a row to fail to complete its four-year term.

By Perparim Isufi

President Hashim Thaci last week announced October 6 as the date for people in Kosovo to go to the polls again to elect a new parliament.

The pre-term vote will be the fifth time that Kosovo has held parliamentary elections in 12 years.

Even though parliament is elected for four years, none of the last four parliaments has managed to complete a full term.

Incompatible coalition partners

Adem Beha, a lecturer of political science at the University of Pristina, said that the unsustainability of Kosovo’s governments is a consequence of the country’s electoral system.

He said that on paper, Kosovo is a “consociational parliamentary democracy” – one designed to maintain plurality and guarantee ethnic diversity as well as ensure women’s representation in the system, which means administrations are necessarily coalitions.

“This system allows no party to govern alone in Kosovo and this is good. In Kosovo, governments are usually established based on coalitions, be it pre-electoral or post-electoral,” Beha told BIRN.

But this has also meant that government have been formed with parties which have nothing in common in terms of political programmes.

“Because government stability depends on coalition partners, the bigger the number of partners, the more unstable government is. It means that decision-making in such systems of representation is more complicated due to the difficulty of harmonising positions between partners for a quick and effective decision-making while in government,” Beha explained.

Kosovo journalist Agron Halitaj argued that the consecutive failure of governments to complete their full terms “is not a consequence of the immaturity of political parties” because he thinks that they have experience of the institutional functioning of electoral processes from the pre-independence period when Kosovo was administered by the UN.

“The continual interruption of government terms comes about mainly due to unprincipled coalitions and the dependence on [Belgrade-backed Kosovo Serb party] Srpska Lista to drive some processes forward,” Halitaj said.

Srpska Lista, although formally part of the government, froze its participation after the Kosovo authorities imposed a 100 per cent import tariff on Serbia goods in November 2018.

A history of fallen governments

The Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, the two main political parties in the government coalition after Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, were untroubled by a weak opposition bloc in the early months of their rule.

Two months before the independence declaration, both parties’ leaders, Hashim Thaci and Fatmir Sejdiu, signed a coalition agreement which saw Thaci taking the position of prime minister after three years in opposition, while the LDK regained the position of president.

However, in September 2010, a Constitutional Court decision ruled that Sejdiu could not simultaneously hold the presidential position and that of president of the LDK.

On being elected president in 2008, Sejdiu had frozen his party duties but the court ruled that this was not enough.

In a televised address immediately after the publication of the verdict, Sejdiu said he had not violated the constitution, but respected the court’s decision. He stepped down from the presidency, choosing to remain as the LDK’s leader. A month later, he also lost that role in party elections to his former adviser, Isa Mustafa.

Halitaj said that the coalition had a clear task in the early days after the declaration of independence.

“The PDK-LDK coalition was established to easier manage the state-building process after the declaration of independence, but the PDK was more interested in damaging the LDK as much as it could in order to secure a win in the upcoming elections,” he said.

Thaci’s second government from 2010-2014 was entering the last months of its tenure in May 2014 when Kosovo political scene became deadlocked over a proposal which would have seen the semi-military Kosovo Security Force transformed into a regular army. In return, minority parties, like those representing Serbs who opposed the establishment of a Kosovo army, would continue to get reserved seats in parliament.

Kosovo’s constitution, which entered into force in June 2008, provided privileged opportunities for parties representing minority communities with 20 reserved seats as well as the ones that they could win through direct votes. But opposition parties did not back the proposal, suggesting that it would be enough for minority parties to have 20 reserved seats guaranteed.

Representatives of the Serb minority said meanwhile that they would abstain in the vote on the Kosovo Armed Forces if they were not guaranteed reserved seats in parliament for another four years.

Following days of discussions, Thaci put forward a motion for the dissolution of parliament in May.

“It is senseless for a parliament to exist that cannot establish its army,” Thaci told journalists a day before Kosovo MPs voted for the dissolution of parliament, six months before the end of its term.

Halitaj argued that the 2010-2014 administration was “the most fragile government” Kosovo has ever had due to its lack of support in parliament.

After parliamentary elections in June 2014, it took more than six months for Kosovo’s political parties to establish a coalition. The fragmented vote and the hesitation of other parties to join the PDK in a coalition combined with a Constitutional Court verdict that the party that won the most votes – the PDK – had the sole right to nominate a candidate for prime minister. However, the court did not specify how parliament should proceed if the biggest parliamentary group failed to elect a speaker.

This allowed Thaci’s PDK to drag the problem on until Isa Mustafa’s LDK came under pressure and accepted terms which saw Mustafa become prime minister and reserved the presidency for the PDK after incumbent Atifete Jahjaga’s term ended in April 2016.

But in 2017, the PDK-LDK coalition ram into serious problems.

The PDK’s new leader, Kadri Veseli, insisted that Mustafa was not equipped to take “important decisions”, referring to a controversial border deal with Montenegro which, according to opposition parties, deprives Kosovo of more than 8,000 hectares of its land.

The deal was signed in August 2015 but the Mustafa government never put it up for ratification in parliament.

The ruling PDK-LDK coalition also faced bitter criticism both outside and inside parliament, with opposition MPs even resorting to setting off tear gas inside the legislature to disrupt it.

This troubled parliament was then dissolved in May 2017.

After the subsequent elections in 2017, Ramush Haradinaj, the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK party, unexpectedly became the frontrunner for the prime minister’s position after a deal with the PDK’s Veseli.

After having received only 34 per cent of the votes, the coalition of three parties led by former Kosovo Liberation Army leaders, Kadri Veseli (PDK), Ramush Haradinaj (AAK) and Fatmir Limaj (NISMA, the Social Democratic Initiative), secured the premiership but were far from having a majority of 61 votes in the 120-seated parliament.

Nearly three months after the elections, the government was narrowly voted in by parliament with the support of ethnic minorities’ representatives.

However, it lacked support during the majority of its 22 months in office. As a consequence, many of its legislative initiatives have failed because of the lack of quorum in parliament.

In July this year, Ramush Haradinaj surprised many when he announced his resignation from the post after he was summoned for questioning as a suspect by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague, which is probing wartime and post-war crimes in Kosovo.

On August 22, parliament voted for its own dissolution and four days later President Thaci announced October 6 as the date for new snap elections.

A decade of bad governance

Adem Beha said that Kosovo’s political system throws up many complications.

“The elections of 2014 and 2017 produced big government coalitions with more than 20 parties and many more scandals. But leaving this issue aside, in Kosovo the situation gets complicated more due to the fact that political coalitions are political calculations which are not based on either government programmes or political ideologies,” Beha said.

But the unsustainability of Kosovo’s governments does not necessarily make the country less democratic, he argued.

“Kosovo has suffered and is suffering not because its post-war governments have been short-lived, but because of their longevity in taking bad decisions for the country for a long time,” he said.

“When there is bad decision-making for a long time by a long-term government, the lifetime of [a democratically-elected government] gets shortened in a country. This has happened to Kosovo since the declaration of independence,” he added.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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