Kosovo Issues Overlooked

Local politicians have failed to address local issues during the municipal election campaign

Kosovo Issues Overlooked

Local politicians have failed to address local issues during the municipal election campaign

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Kosovars will vote in this weekend's elections with a sense of fear, responsibility, and a touch of reserve.

The international community's labelling of the poll as a "democratic test" for the province, which will have a direct impact on its future, has had the desired effect of creating a largely tolerant atmosphere.

But while they've desisted from raising the political temperature, local leaders have done little to instil confidence in voters and may slip further in their estimation after the poll.

While inter-party conflicts have calmed down for now, they could easily resurface in the aftermath of the elections.

The international administration has tried to pre-empt post-election violence with a visit from senior United States diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who persuaded the five largest political parties to sign a joint statement agreeing to recognise the ballot results.

But a clear victory for the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, would undoubtedly increase internal political tensions in Kosovo.

A coalition government - co-ordinated by the international administration - rather than the absolute victory of one party would be for most Kosovars the most positive outcome of these elections.

What concrete steps are Kosovars expecting from the poll?

It's well known that citizens here are confronted with big problems which have not been satisfactorily resolved by the 16-month leadership of United Nations mission chief Bernard Kouchner.

During this period, and the decade before, Kosovo has suffered a significant decline in its economy, infrastructure, community services, etc. The people have high expectations that they are about to see an end to this period of chaos.

Obviously the internationals can't overcome all these problems without the co-operation of the population. And the majority of citizens are aware that they are voting precisely for this kind of change.

But the political parties, or let's say most of them, have not confronted these pragmatic issues, have lacked concrete programmes, and have used evasive political phrases and promises of independence to mislead the electorate's understanding of the ballot.

Clearly Kosovo's status does not depend on the local elections. Yet the campaign in general has been treated as though it does.

Meanwhile, the internationals, whether UNMIK or the OSCE, have made their own calculations. If the elections and the period following them pass peacefully, they can declare their mission here a success.

Under such circumstances, Kouchner will gradually start the process of co-governance with local politicians. Until now the lack of this co-governance has been one of the weakest points of his power.

This is why these elections are not only a test for democracy, but also a test of whether Kosovars can manage their own affairs.

Mehmet Kraja is an editor with Koha Ditore newspaper in Kosovo.

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