Comment: Poll Killings Damage Kosovo's Reputation

There were many losers and few winners in Kosovo's recent election.

Comment: Poll Killings Damage Kosovo's Reputation

There were many losers and few winners in Kosovo's recent election.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

While putting down these thoughts on Kosovo's local elections this weekend, I learned of the political killing of Suva Reka mayor Uke Bytyci and his two bodyguards.

I was planning to write about all the losers of this election - and of something of a victory for all of us - but the murder of this senior Democratic League of Kosovo official is a terrible blow for everyone here. There is no democratic process or election result that can compensate for the loss of a human life.

The deaths of Bytyci and his bodyguards were an isolated episode in an otherwise quiet and well-organised ballot, but they have nonetheless damaged Kosovo's reputation.

The killers did not only murder three individuals and their privilege to exercise their political choices, but also our collective right to consider democracy as an entitlement, and not a goal to be achieved.

Those Who Boycotted

More than forty per cent of voters in Kosovo failed to cast their ballot, despite excellent technical support from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.

If we look at the numbers, it becomes clear that the biggest winner was not any of the parties themselves, but the voters who chose not to participate. They have turned themselves into a silent majority.

Kosovo is not an established democracy, where elections are a usual occurrence for the people. Such a high level of boycott after only two free and democratic ballots indicates that the Kosovar political establishment has become something to be rejected by the voter.

Things are not going well in Kosovo according to the biggest part of the population - those who did not take part because they did not know whom to vote for.

Closing Their Eyes

Pristina, the biggest municipality in the protectorate, can be taken as an example of corruption and inefficiency in local government.

The capital city will continue to be run by the LDK - the same party which won the last local elections and has proved to be a complete failure.

While Pristina needs special analysis, this election showed that the electorate, which chose to vote, did so not on the basis of party results, but on loyalty.

Two Political Trends

The outcome of these elections was heavily affected by the party leaders and the way they personalised the campaigns.

This tendency was mirrored by the OSCE's decision to print ballot papers which showed a list of parties and not the names of the individuals who were contesting the council seats.

Therefore, at the Kodra e Diellit neighborhood in Pristina, LDK voters were thinking of the party leader Ibrahim Rugova, who is now supposed to take care of problems with the area's drinking water.

In Kacanik, Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, voters backed its leader Hashim Thaci, who will have to repair the road to Korblic.

Meanwhile, in Peja, head of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, Ramush Haradinaj will have to engage in the demolition of around 200 buildings illegally constructed on public property.

Under such a system, it was unlikely that voters could make an informed choice about who to vote for to ensure their problems were solved.

This election has also demonstrated that the opposition parties have only managed to consolidate their positions in a few places.

The PDK has emerged as the leading party in poverty-stricken rural regions, and among the poor voters in more affluent parts, while the AAK greatly extended its lead in some areas of Dukagjin.

Serbs Confront Reality

If the Albanians gained little during the elections, Kosovo's Serbs emerged as the biggest losers.

The majority of Serb voters within Kosovo - and the expatriates casting their ballots from within Serbia - simply boycotted the elections. By doing so, they have lost a golden opportunity to integrate themselves within the local councils and play an important role in the larger municipalities.

Secondly, in this political vacuum, they created opportunities for the most radical hardliners controlled by Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica, whose Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, was victorious in two municipalities, and Milan Ivanovic's Socialists, ultimately controlled by Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj.

These Serbian representatives have always been in favour of an ethnic partition of Kosovo, seeing this as the only solution.

It is very likely that the issue of decentralisation - a precondition for Serbian participation in the election process - will be closed by these results.

UNMIK And Its Partners

The United Nations Mission In Kosovo, UNMIK, and its partners have been weakened by these elections.

Those who boycotted the ballot are now unrepresented and have nobody to listen to their concerns. The victorious Albanian parties have less legitimacy than before, and although they can form new local governments, they are weaker at the central level.

And the Povratak coalition has lost its legitimacy. How can it profess to represent Kosovo Serbs when it failed to win a single municipality?

This is a very awkward position for both UNMIK and the people of Kosovo. Such a political climate does not bode well for improvements to the protectorate's joint institutions.

If this is the case, the outcome of the latest ballot should make all parties sit down together and find a way out of the present situation.

The Grey Area

The UN's chief administrator Michael Steiner once described Northern Mitrovica as a "grey area".

I think I am not wrong in saying that Kosovo, with its lack of political alternatives, has now entered a grey political area, at least until 2003. Next year, should not have been an electoral one, rather a period for paying attention to the country's problems.

As it is now clear, voter enthusiasm soon turned to apathy. This latest ballot did not show anything new - except for some personal efforts to run a sincere electoral campaign on the part of some individuals and parties.

Veton Surroi is the founder and publisher of the Kosovo newspaper Koha Ditore.

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