Comment: Postpone Kosovo's Elections Now!

Kosovo is not ready for elections: To hold them now, in the present political and social environment risks more instability, not less.

Comment: Postpone Kosovo's Elections Now!

Kosovo is not ready for elections: To hold them now, in the present political and social environment risks more instability, not less.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

In the general rush to hold a free and fair vote in Kosovo as soon as possible it might sound almost a blasphemy to for anyone, whether local or international, to say as I do, that the elections should be postponed! But I feel it necessary to speak now before it is too late, for Kosovo's future.


I cannot deny that those trying to call quick elections have the best possible intentions, but the arguments against holding then now - before the country is ready - outweigh the very best ideals. I can list some of them here.


The effects of war are still felt in Kosovo. The exact number of the killed and the whereabouts of all the disappeared are still not known. A high emotional tension lingers among much of the population and the competition for political power could easily turn violent.


The landscape is still marred by the burnt and destroyed, and the numerous homeless, unemployed, deported or damaged among the populace are too busy worrying about basic shelter and food to waste energy on deciding which of the candidates on offer deserve the people's trust and confidence.


They will not be able to vote without pressure, free of manipulation from many different directions.


The criminality rife in Kosovo brings with it the risk that early elections will open the door for members of organised crime rings to slip into power alongside honest candidates.


The unresolved issue of the 7,000 or so Kosovo Albanians who were arrested and taken away by the Serb authorities before and during the fighting - and who still languish in Serb jails - only further raises tensions and delays the progress of Kosovo's multi-ethnic reality still further.


Kosovo Albanian refugees were literally spread around the world when the crisis began: voting now, without their participation, would hardly be fair. We should also not forget that number of Serbs and Roma who have left Kosovo is not so small that it would not be a problem to the election if they did not participate. And I do not think their return would be early enough.


The divisions in the town of Mitrovica would pose very serious obstacles to the running of an election there at the moment. And friction at Rahovec and the presence of Russian troops, prone to frequent violations of the international peace force's neutrality, is not a problem that can be easily eliminated so soon.


Consequently even the very idea of elections works against the longed-for stability needed in today's Kosovo. On the contrary, the situation will become more, not less destabilised by a vote in present circumstances.


And one must take into consideration the level of knowledge and political consciousness of both potential voters and potential lawmakers.


There is Albania's example. Many elections have been held since authoritarianism was toppled nine years ago, but stability there seems as far away as ever.


Well, we must say that Albania lacked the opportunities then that Kosovo has now. Here in Kosovo, because of the presence of friends from around the world, the situation is quite different. They will not allow the kind of unchecked conflagrations seen in Albania. Kosovo should exploit this rare historical chance and should start down the road to democratic stability with well-thought out and well-programmed steps.


These are obvious reasons to advocate caution before rushing into early elections. But there are more fundamental issues to consider.


If hasty elections, either local or general, result in the empowerment of under-qualified people, the international community and Bernard Kouchner in particular could end up in the unenviable position of having to press for the dismissal of elected public figures. The furore that would follow could be lastingly damaging for all involved and may not be repairable.


Another issue. If elections in haste deliver victory to pacifist Ibrahim Rugova's party grouping, the former fighters who find themselves in opposition may consider political defeat insufficient reward for the losses they sustained in battle, especially given the perceived lack of similar sacrifice made by Rugova's people.


If, on the other hand, Hashim Thaci's political grouping of former fighting men should win, Rugova's allies will have plenty of opportunities to hamper the progress of their efforts to rebuild the country.


That is why Kosovo and its people need time to first rebuild the economy and the education system, culture, the media, health, agriculture, police and security.


Kosovo's people need to heal the wounds of war and recover from the traumas of conflict and slavery. Kosovo's political parties need fundamental change in their ideas and organisation to make them effective by international standards. Such work needs patience and above all, time, much time.


One decisive step should be undertaken first. Those who plan to stand as candidates should stand down as counselors to Kouchner's interim administration. They should be freed to prepare for the election.


Those who do not seek power but are only interested only in Kosovo's future, freed of the burden of Balkan provincialism but who know its environment well, should then dedicate themselves to the creation of a civil executive that will be ready to serve Kosovo's citizens.


They should put in place the steps needed to lead Kosovo to international standards and clear the stage for world-standard elections. Only then can we convert the freedoms we are enjoy today into a full, complete and real democracy for Kosovo's citizens, without any distinction of nation, ethnicity, religion or principle.


Adem Demaci is the former political representative of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA).


Albania, Kosovo
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