Kosovo: A Government at Last

Kosovo finally gets a government and president after the UN smooths over disagreements between rival Albanian parties.

Kosovo: A Government at Last

Kosovo finally gets a government and president after the UN smooths over disagreements between rival Albanian parties.

Ethnic Albanian parties have finally elected a president and formed an internationally recognised government, more than three months since Kosovo's first general elections


The compromise solution, brokered this week by Kosovo's UN's new chief administrator Michael Steiner, marks an important step towards self-rule.


Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, was elected president in the fourth round of voting on March 4. Bajram Rexhepi, a member of Kosovo's second largest party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, was appointed prime minister. Rexhepi has a reputation for overcoming party differences and his appointment was key to PDK support for the agreement.


Rexhepi's nomination for the job is thought to have been engineered by Steiner whose role was fundamental in smoothing over disagreements between the LDK, PDK and the Alliance for the future of Kosovo, AAK. The latter two led by the former Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, leaders, Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj, respectively.


Three previous attempts at electing a president had been hamstrung by the PDK and AAK's decision to abstain from voting, with Rugova failing to muster the two-thirds majority he required to gain office on each occasion. Both parties were unhappy at the ministerial positions they'd been offered.


This time around, Rugova won 88 of the parliament's 120 votes and his party - the largest in the assembly with 47 seats - took over the ministries of finance, education, culture, transport and communications.


Thaci's PDK will take charge of the trade and public services departments; the AAK will run social welfare and the environment; the Serb coalition, Povratak, will handle agriculture; while the an umbrella group of minority parties, who hold 13 seats in the assembly, will manage health.


In his election speech, Rugova pledged to integrate all ethnic communities during his three-year term. "We shall work for a free, democratic, peaceful, prosperous and independent Kosovo," he said. However, his statement failed to impress the 22 Serb representatives who are adamantly opposed to Kosova's secession. They point to UN convention 1244 which rules that the region is part of the Yugoslav federation, even though in reality it has been run as an international protectorate ever since the withdrawal of Serbian forces in 1999.


Many of the Kosovo Serb deputies, including Povratak's leader Rada Trajkovic, abstained from the vote. Trajkovic has warned that her community would boycott upcoming local elections if their grievances were not addressed. "From this moment, we expect the process of discrimination which has been going on for two and a half years to stop, making it possible for all those who want to come back to do so," she said.


The authorities in Belgrade expressed disappointment at Serb representation in the new government. Serbian deputy prime minister Nebojsa Covic, who heads Belgrade's Kosovo negotiating team, had asked Steiner to give the Serbs at least two ministerial and four deputy ministerial positions, a request which was turned down by the UN chief.


While the Serbs are clearly unhappy, two-thirds of Povratak deputies abstained in Monday's vote, the biggest problem for the newly appointed Kosovo government is its lack of decision-making powers. According to the UN's constitutional framework for self-government in Kosovo, Steiner has the power to veto decisions made by the authority.


The parliament also has no right to decide on Kosovo's independence, which all the Albanian political parties desire. The assembly also lacks the key ministries of defence, interior, foreign affairs and justice - functions run by international bodies.


However, the creation of this government does mark an important step forward in Kosovo's institutional evolution. Democratic structures should start to evolve and the governing process should become more efficient and more transparent. There is a hope the new authorities will improve standards of education and health, as well as encourage economic growth and alleviate unemployment.


Adriatik Kelmendi is an editor at the Pristina daily Koha ditore.


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