Kosovo’s 2021 Elections – a Glimmer of Hope?

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Balkans & EU Policy Brief Series nr. 1.

Kosovo’s parliamentary elections have captured the regional attention of the Western Balkans, both for domestic political changes and for the prospects for the future of the small entity, related both to the expectations of the citizens and to the approach regarding the relationship with Serbia.

The troubled years that Kosovo has gone through since the end of the 1999 war, adding the declaration of independence in 2008, and to the troublesome political life these days have showed the growing interest of citizens in normalization in terms of state stability, alongside with the special attention paid by the Western powers to this small entity in the Balkans.

The year 2020 has had various political escalations for Kosovo. Beyond the pandemic crisis and its effects, political instability has been another landmark for internal developments. With two governments ousted, one by a vote of no confidence and the other by a Constitutional Court decision, and with the President Hashim Thaci withdrawn to be investigated for alleged war crimes, the domestic political picture has made a considerable contribution to the outcome of the new elections.

What to expect from Albin Kurti? The significance of the 2021 election result

The triumph of the Vetevendosje party, with a percentage of 48% of the ballots of the citizens who expressed their vote, underlined a detached gain that is not limited only to aspects related to the future of the internal policy. In fact, this party has shown the trust it has gained from the population, being again the first choice of citizens after the last parliamentary elections at the end of 2019. Alongside with the victory of the Vetevendosje party, the former ruling parties or governing coalitions, the Democratic Party of Kosovo and the Democratic League of Kosovo garnered 17 and 13 percent of the vote, respectively. It can be seen that the citizens’ elections took into account the promise within which the Vetevendosje party came and moved the population both in terms of vote participation and the confidence given by the citizens.

Albin Kurti, together with his party, emphasized in the election campaign the people’s wishes for democracy, the fight against corruption and the well-being of citizens. In this sense, the popularity has not only increased, but also reached the hopes of the citizens regarding the internal recovery. For more than 13 years, Kosovars considered themselves independent, but the weak economy, insufficient living standards and unstable democracy have been the main factors in slowing the progress for normality.

On the other hand, continuing tensions with Serbia or international assertion have captured the attention of various Kosovo leaders. In this sense, moved by the repercussions of the internal pandemic situation, the Kosovars voted for change, in fact, they restored the hope of the Vetevendosje party that they had voted a year and a half ago and of its leader, Albin Kurti.

Vetevendosje’s victory was celebrated with Vjosa Osmani, Kosovo’s interim president, who recently joined Kurti in supporting him and his party’s candidacy in the elections. Notable in the popularity of the two is the fact that both are young, especially Osmani who is 38 years old. Thus, compared to the population of Kosovo, with citizens with an average age of 30 sympathy in this regard was much easier for the following reasons. First, Kosovars voted not only on the age aspect, but also on the contribution of novelty and reforms that they expect to bring. Second, given the slow progress in recent years, citizens are tired of trusting the old parties and their leaders, especially since old figures, such as former President Hashim Thaci, have been absent from the political arena.

The main challenge that the Vetevendosje party will have will be to consider the choices it will make regarding the governing coalition. Even though the party ranks first in the last two elections, it continues to hold a total of 29 out of 120 seats in parliament and in this regard, it needs alliances to form a governing coalition.

The third-ranked party, the Democratic League of Kosovo, with which it formed a coalition last year, was also the initiator of the dismissal of this government in the end. Thus, trust between the two parties does not prevail, and this reality can also be applied to the Democratic Party of Kosovo. The alternative that the Vetevendosje party will focus on is its negotiations with minority parties and their confidence in the stability of a complete government in Kosovo.

What is very clear from the election results is that Vetevendosje party political discourse was oriented towards the socio-economic aspect that the citizens of Kosovo felt after last year’s pandemic. An important aspect since the emergence of the party is that it started from a political movement, which considers public inclusion in the decision-making process, emphasizing the principles of civic activism, and this was strongly seen in mobilizations and the movements within the protests since 2005. It remains to be seen how many of the election promises the new party will be able to deliver. Until then, political stability in Kosovo must pass another step, that of the election of the president, scheduled for this spring.

The relationship with Serbia, where to?

Although internally, the euphoria of this victory brings hope for the future of Kosovo’s domestic politics, in terms of relations with Serbia, tensions remain a benchmark for the situation in the Western Balkans region and also for their future. The dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, where the European Union and the United States continue to intervene, highlights one of the biggest challenges facing both governments.

Since 2008, Kosovo has been in a continuous recognition of independence, especially from Serbia. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic recently stressed that until the end of his term (in 2022), the recognition of Kosovo is not in question. In this regard, some of Pristina’s hopes have been dashed, but the dialogue continues both due to international pressure and the fact that until independence, Serbia and Kosovo have negotiations that need to be concluded, in different areas, even technical ones.

Serbia is seeking accession to the European Union, and in this regard, it cannot avoid the dialogue with Kosovo. Because accession is not possible without an agreement between the two governments, with or without recognition of independence, the high-level meetings take place mechanically, with the promise of both sides to reach a consensus.

In the light of the new events, significant positive developments in relation to Serbia will not be the priority of the forthcoming government. Kosovo, affected by the pandemic crisis and with a vaccination program that has not yet begun , will focus on issues related to citizens’ health, economic recovery and strengthening domestic policy, with a focus on the fight against corruption, hardening democracy and the legal system.

Given the new political momentum in Kosovo, the hopes for the new government  are in view of the much-desired political stability, the recovery of issues related to the economic and social side, and in relation to Serbia we may see a much strict approach, with more specific requirements and only with the recognition of independence on the table. In this regard, Albin Kurti has had in the past a message oriented towards nationalism, and a rupture of relations with Serbia. The possibility for this perspective to continue is slim, especially in the context of international involvement and pressure.

Greta Roth is a PhD Candidate at SNSPA Bucharest. Her research focus is orientated in the Western Balkans region and the emerging events that build international politics and she also works as a researcher at the Center for Conflict Preventions and Early Warning.