Defectors from Leading Kosovo Party Threatened

Split in LDK ranks stirring passions, but unlikely in short term to displace main party on Kosovo political stage.

Defectors from Leading Kosovo Party Threatened

Split in LDK ranks stirring passions, but unlikely in short term to displace main party on Kosovo political stage.

Edita Tahiri, once a high-profile member of Kosovo’s biggest political party, the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, fears for her life after deciding to quit and form a new political movement.

The former member of the party presidency, along with another woman colleague, Edi Shukriu, abandoned the LDK to announce on May 27 that they were forming the Democratic Alternative of Kosovo, ADK.

In a sign of the violent passions this split has stirred, a shadowy nationalist organisation called Homeland Security on July 12 warned those leaving the party that their lives were in jeopardy.

“We warn all of you deserters that are trying to sabotage the work of the LDK in the field that you will pay for this with your life,” the furious message read.

The letter writers made it clear they were targeting “women rebels” like Tahiri who had left the LDK.

The episode has cast a shadow over the run-up to October’s general elections in Kosovo, when the territory’s inhabitants are to vote for a new parliament.

The LDK, led by Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo’s president, is the region’s oldest ethnic Albanian grass roots political organisation. Since its formation in 1989, it has governed Kosovo Albanian society virtually unchallenged and has taken more votes than any other party in every ballot.

In the last general election in 2001, the LDK won 45.6 per cent of votes, which was more than any other party but not enough to form a government alone. As a result, Kosovo has been led since then by a fractious coalition of the LDK, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK.

Polls suggest the LDK’s support has slipped in recent months, which may explain why defectors such as Tahiri have encountered such fury over their moves.

A survey in June 2004 by the Index Kosova survey, a Gallup International partner organisation, says more than 10 per cent of those who backed the LDK in July 2003 would no longer do so.

Critics say the LDK is unlikely to regain the voters’ complete confidence if it refuses to reform what they describe as its archaic, monolithic character.

After complaining that the police had not even contacted her – let alone offered her protection – over the death threat, Tahiri says anxiety over her personal security will not stand in the way of her campaign or cause her to regret the split from the LDK.

Outlining the reasons for leaving, she listed growing voter dissatisfaction with the political process, manifested in the low turn-out in recent elections, the lack of internal democracy within the LDK and an autocratic management style, for which she blamed the centralist leadership of Rugova.

“The March events made this split even more urgent,” she said, referring to the outburst of ethnic-inspired rioting that saw several thousands Serbs forced from their homes.

“Since I did not manage to bring about internal changes in the LDK, though I have been trying to do so since the end of the war, I formed a new party. It is clear Kosovo needs to develop new political alternatives.”

Whether any of these alternative forces will bite deep into the LDK’s support base is open to question, however.

The ADK’s programme of “independence, peace and prosperity” differs little on the surface from the LDK’s own platform.

Voters may warm more to Tahiri’s claim to fight current trends in Kosovo, which she says have made “leaders richer and citizens poorer”.

The ADK insists the party will wage war on corruption in local and international institutions and make economic development a priority, though it stops short of providing detail of how this goal will be achieved.

Analysts say this policy weakness may deny the new party the chance of making a serious impact on the political scene.

Shkëlzen Maliqi, one of Kosovo’s leading commentators, says the LDK is not likely to lose many votes imminently as a result of the breakaway group.

“This [new] political formation has had no time to consolidate its forces, or to form a programme, so it will probably not manage to get more than two seats in the [next] parliament,” Maliqi said.

“What would really have been an alternative for Kosovo voters is one big new movement that would encompass all the new political initiatives, not many new small entities which are unlikely to get more than 5 per cent of the votes.”

The other political novelties that Maliqi was referring to include a new civic movement, named Ora, led by the prominent publisher and intellectual Veton Surroi, and Azem Vllasi, a former prominent Kosovo communist leader in the Tito era, who has now joined the Social Democratic Party of Kosovo, PSDK.

Movements such as Ora, the ADK and the PSDK will be competing among themselves for voters disillusioned with the fruits of the LDK’s 15-year existence and with the slow progress of Kosovar institutions since the end of the war.

The arrival of these initiatives clearly heralds a more democratic atmosphere, but the best they can probably hope for at this stage is to dent the LDK’s chances of forming the next government on its own.

In the meantime, both police and politicians say they are puzzled as to the identity of the unknown extremists standing behind the threat to Tahiri.

“I don’t think this shadowy organisation will influence people’s decision to leave or not leave the LDK because nobody knows who they are or who stands behind them,” Maliqi said.

Refki Morina, of Kosovo’s Police Service, KPS, told IWPR that the police was taking the threat seriously and was investigating who was behind it.

‘The Regional KPS Unit and the international police are covering these cases but we have not managed to discover anything specific for the moment,” he said.

Muhamet Hajrullahu is attending an IWPR journalism course supported by the OSCE.

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