Is It End of an Era in Kosovo?

 

Country facing a period of uncertainty as president resigns following court’s approval of war crimes indictment

By Dzihat Aliju

The question of whether the members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which played a big role in the independence of the country, are being purged from their administrative seats following the resignation of President Hashimm Thaci upon the approval of the war crimes indictment prepared by the Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor's Office by the court in The Hague, is left unanswered.

The spiral of events began with the court’s invitation for Kosovo's former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj to testify as a "suspect" in 2019, shortly after which Haradinaj stepped down from his post. Since the beginning of 2019, the court also invited tens of members of now defunct UCK to The Hague to testify by filing indictments against them. With the approval of Thaci’s indictment as well, many state officials -- especially those at the highest level -- were “cleared” by the court.

Thaci’s term of office was set to end in April 2021 as he took office in April 2016. He had the constitutional right of getting elected for another final term of five years.

Thaci being one of the founders and senior commanders of the UCK as well, the most striking aspect of his statement was that he made the decision to resign while "respecting our partnership with the international community." He said: "I resign from the position of the President of the Republic of Kosovo, protecting the integrity of the Kosovo Presidency, the integrity of the Kosovo state, the integrity and dignity of the people of Kosovo, also while respecting our partnership with the international community."

It was also remarkable that Thaci described the trials accepted by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers for the names who have risen to the highest ranks of the youngest nation in Europe in the last 10 years and led the UCK through its fight for independence as “a small price that had to be paid for the freedom and building of Kosovo.

"Signaling that he is ready to make the necessary sacrifices, Thaci handed over his position to Speaker of the Parliament Vjosa Osmani in accordance with the constitution. If cleared before the end of his term, Thaci will be able to reclaim his position, and also get to run for president once more, as the constitution allows it.

Following his resignation on Thursday, Thaci was rushed to The Hague, where the trial will be held, alongside former Speakers of the Parliament Kadri Veseli and Jakup Krasniqi and Recep Selimi, his comrade from the UCK. A statement by the Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office said that these high-level names were placed in a detention center in The Hague.

In September, Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic signed the “Kosovo and Serbia economic normalization agreements” at a ceremony attended by US President Donald Trump. The normalization of Israel-Kosovo relations, which were among the articles of the agreement, was suddenly on the world agenda. Considering the potential changes that might take place due to the presidential elections in the US, there are many questions on the future of this agreement still seeking answers.

The most profitable recent political formation: The Democratic League of Kosovo

The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) led by Isa Mustafa, a former Kosovar president, ended up being the most profitable political formation in light of all these developments. Mustafa’s re-seizing all of the important positions in the country following his fall from the government in 2017 via the vote of confidence with the support of Hashim Thaci's party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), is another highlight of the tough “game of thrones” that Kosovo is witnessing.

Following the fall of the government in 2017, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned due to the "indictment" within as few as two years. The leader of LDK, which was the second most voted party in the early general elections held in November 2019, could still not become the prime minister while ending up being in the government. Levizja Vetevendosje (Self Determination Movement) leader Albin Kurti became the prime minister, while Vjosa Osmani from the LDK became the speaker of the parliament.

However, the term of office of this government was also very short. The LDK, which saw Kurti and the Self Determination Movement as an obstacle to the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, dropped the government of which it was a partner via vote of confidence in the parliament, while Avdullah Hoti from the LDK was given the task of re-establishing the government. It is a key concern what kind of a strategy the LDK, which -- albeit by proxy -- holds the presidency, the parliament and the prime ministry will follow in the future with these latest developments.

Is it a new president or another early election?

According to the Constitution of Kosovo, the presidential elections are expected to be held within 30 days following the end of the current president’s term. Considering that Speaker of the Parliament Osmani, who took office by proxy, can stay in her seat for a maximum of 6 months according to the Constitution, it is highly likely that the elections will be held in February or March 2021.

The president is elected in the parliament via the votes of the deputies. Any citizen who can get more than 30 deputies’ signatures can be a candidate and the candidate who receives two-thirds of the votes in the 120-seat parliament is elected as the president. In a case where none of the candidates could collect two-thirds of the votes in the first two rounds, there is a third round between the two candidates who have collected the most votes in the previous rounds, which ends with the most voted candidate becoming the president.

The distribution of the political parties within the parliament is another topic that needs attention. None of the parties are capable of winning the presidential seat on their own currently. The Self Determination Movement who has 29 deputies will be able to nominate a candidate only if it can convince the Serb List, a minority party with 10 deputies or other 10 deputies that represent minority groups in the country to support them. Political experts and columnists are stating that Kurti, who was dismissed as prime minister, can therefore rise to “power” through another path.

In case of the president not being elected, even after the third round, Kosovo will have to have its third early election and elect its fifth president within the last three years, which is dangerous. According to the Constitution, if no candidates are elected after the third round, the parliament is dismissed, and the country goes to an early election within the next 45 days.

It was also remarkable that Thaci described the trials accepted by the Kosovo Specialist Chambers for the names who have risen to the highest ranks of the youngest nation in Europe in the last 10 years and led the UCK through its fight for independence as “a small price that had to be paid for the freedom and building of Kosovo. Signaling that he is ready to make the necessary sacrifices, Thaci handed over his position to Speaker of the Parliament Vjosa Osmani in accordance with the constitution. If cleared before the end of his term, Thaci will be able to reclaim his position, and also get to run for president once more, as the constitution allows it.

Will Kosovo-Serbia dialogue be suspended once again?

The dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which was suspended due to many reasons in the previous years, runs the risk of being suspended again due to these possibilities. It is a matter of concern how this dialogue process will be carried out in this political turmoil, as it has been frequently interrupted under the mediation of the EU since 2011.

On the other hand, Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic signed the “Kosovo and Serbia economic normalization agreements" in September at a ceremony attended by US President Donald Trump. The normalization of Israel-Kosovo relations, which were among the articles of the agreement, was suddenly on the world agenda. Considering the potential changes that might take place due to the presidential elections in the US, there are many questions on the future of this agreement still seeking answers.

None of the Serbian high-level officials who have committed genocide in the Balkans after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and had a role in the massacres in Kosovo being punished or taken to court is another intriguing situation in Kosovo.

The people of Kosovo, who survived great difficulties and troubles in the Kosovo war in 1998-1999 (which could be described as a disaster for them), could not enjoy their independence in 2008 which came 10 years after this period. These people have experienced early general elections in the last 12 years since the independence and faced various obstacles in their process of state building, especially with the international "embargo" and they want nothing but peace as the novel coronavirus pandemic strikes the world with the second wave. It seems that a "fiery" winter awaits Kosovo which is still seeking visa liberation from EU member states despite meeting the necessary conditions. /AA