It’s been a relatively active spring, politically speaking, in the Balkans, what with Serbian elections in March elevating Aleksandar Vučić to the premiership, Macedonian elections in April that brought a fourth consecutive term for the center-right government, and Slovenian elections next month after the resignation of its first female prime minister Alenka Bratušek.
But on June 8, it was Kosovo’s turn, where the country held elections that, for the first time, featured the participation of the Serbian minority in North Kosovo.
Preliminary results gave the governing center-right Partia Demokratike e Kosovës (PDK, Democratic Party of Kosovo) a narrow lead of around 30.72%, to just 25.72% for the opposition center-right Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës (LDK, Democratic League of Kosovo), which is led by Isa Mustafa, the mayor of Priština, Kosovo’s capital, between 2007 and 2014. The left-wing nationalist Vetëvendosje (Self-Determination) won just 13.51%, despite its breakthrough performance in last December’s local elections, which its mayoral candidate, Shpend Ahmeti, wrested control of the mayoral office in Priština.
Throughout Kosovo, turnout climbed only to around 41.5%, less than the 47.8% turnout in the last election in 2010. Turnout was even lower in North Kosovo, home to the country’s predominantly Serbian minority population. Nonetheless, the Srpska lista za Kosovo (Serbian List for Kosovo) won 4.51% of the vote nationally, a marked increase in voter share, if not in seats, given that 10 seats in the 120-member Kuvendi i Kosovës (National Assembly) are reserved for the Serbian minority. Another 10 seats are reserved for additional minorities, ranging from Turks to Croats to Egyptians to Bosniaks to Romani.
The likeliest result is a third consecutive term for the government headed by Hashim Thaçi (pictured above), the leader of the DPK, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and Kosovo’s prime minister since 2008. Thaçi currently governs in coalition with a handful of small parties and the National Assembly’s ethnic Serbs. He’ll have to assemble a similar coalition again — or otherwise turn to a ‘grand coalition’ with the LDK and/or Vetëvendosje.
In a narrow sense, the elections themselves were a success, given the growing Serb participation and the relatively smooth voting process, much improved from the widely panned 2010 national vote, which was marred by fraud, and the 2013 local elections, which were marred by violence in North Kosovo.
With a population of just 1.74 million, the ethnic Albanian majority amounts to around 92.9% of the population, while the Serbian minority amounts to just 1.5%, according to the 2011 census, which indicated that 1.6% of the population is Bosniak and 1.1% of the population is Macedonian. That count, however, doesn’t include the nearly 73,000 estimated residents of north Kosovo, the vast majority of which are Serb.
In the strictest sense, the most important issues facing Kosovo are existential. Since its de facto split from Serbia in 1999 and its formal declaration of independence in 2008, it hasn’t achieved the universal recognition for which it had hoped, even within the European Union, where Greece, Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus and Romania have yet to recognize the country officially. In particular, the province of North Kosovo remains particularly in limbo. Through the inducement of EU membership, European officials have pushed Serbia toward acknowledging the reality that it will have to eventually concede Kosovar sovereignty, and it’s working — Serbian and Kosovar negotiators are discussing how to reduce tensions between the two countries, including over the highly disputed North Kosovo. They signed a landmark accord in April 2013 that sets forth a framework for greater cooperation.
The current elections, which would have otherwise been held in November, were called forward after Serb lawmakers blocked a vote on creating a national Kosovar army.
Nonetheless, Serbian accession to the European Union is still a decade away, and Serbian recognition of an independent Kosovo, and Kosovo’s eventual EU membership could take even longer. In the meanwhile, the country faces a depressed economy, high unemployment (around 35%) and, like many Balkan countries, crippling corruption.
Even though Thaçi’s government will continue to make strides in normalizing Kosovo’s sovereignty, there’s little hope that Thaçi can truly transform Kosovo’s economy or crack down on rampant graft. So while the election might have come about over a national army, voters hope Thaçi will nonetheless improve everyday life — he ordered a 25% increase in public sector wages shortly before the election, pledged to repeat that increase annually for the next four years. For good measure, Thaçi also promised to create 200,000 new jobs.
Finding a way to keep those promises will be tough enough. But Thaçi will likely face even more difficulties from his past if he succeeds in building a new coalition government. He and some of his former comrades are under investigation by the Council of Europe over accusations that the KLA harvested the organs of Serbian prisoners of war during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.