Kosovo Media Boss Launches Election Bid

Prominent journalist kicks off political career pledging to push for more effective governance and economic management.

Kosovo Media Boss Launches Election Bid

Prominent journalist kicks off political career pledging to push for more effective governance and economic management.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

Journalist-turned-politician Veton Surroi, set to run for election in October as a leader of the fledgling Ora citizens' list, says that he wants to shift the focus of politics in the entity and his presence on the hustings looks set to enliven the campaign.

Ora, or clock, brings together a number of opinion makers and activists. At a packed rally in a Pristina cinema on June 29, Surroi told the audience that citizens should start voting for changes, which the current government seems incapable of initiating.

Surroi focused on economic stagnation and rising poverty, a lack of effective governance on the part of both the coalition government and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, and the low degree of self-governance enjoyed by Kosovars.

As the owner of Kosovo's largest daily newspaper, Koha Ditore, plus a national television station, elements of Surroi's platform will have been familiar to the audience - most notably his critical stance towards UNMIK, which he adopted during the tenure of the former UN Special Representative, Michael Steiner.

Surroi called for the release of funds earned through the privatisation of state-owned enterprises and the creation of ministries of interior and foreign affairs. The governing coalition, comprising the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, is making the same demands, but Surroi says they have totally failed to put an effective argument to the international community.

Similarly, his position on the pressing issue of the final status for the region is no different from that of the other main parties, but his outlook on how the issue should be approached differs significantly.

Since the end of the NATO bombing in June 1999, Kosovo has been run as a UN protectorate, described in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 as a constituent part of Yugoslavia "pending a final solution".

Urging his supporters to hasten independence by building Kosovo society from within through effective governance and consolidation of the economy, Surroi criticised the outlook of those who are simply waiting for recognition, or proclaiming "independence" without seeking to ensure a solid future.

Last weekend in Pristina, he told an international conference on the future of the region, "We may not yet know what Kosovo's final status will be, but at least people need to be clear about what does not lie ahead. Kosovo will never again be ruled from Belgrade, but nor will its 'independence be formally recognised' in the way that some are facetiously requesting" - a thinly veiled reference to President Ibrahim Rugova.

The other Ora leader, Ylber Hyser, former editor of Koha Ditore, currently the head of the Kaci NGO, was even blunter at a meeting in Vustrri/Vucitrn. "Independence will not arrive by telegram," he told the audience, adding that Ora had been created because the gravity of the situation in Kosovo required an innovative new approach to daily issues.

Ora's target constituency consists of young voters, who have not developed a fixed allegiance to any political party, plus those who have become disenchanted and stopped voting. At the last elections, the turnout was below 60 per cent.

Though they’ve yet to launch a manifesto outlining how they propose to achieve their objectives, Surroi and Hysa have been holding rallies in towns across Kosovo, including Gjilan/Gnjilane and Peja/Pec, Vustrii/Vucitrn and Viti/Vitina, in order to build a grassroots network of support.

While polls suggest that the majority of voters decide how to vote in advance of the campaigning, Ora has focused much of its attention on disenchanted urban or semi-urban communities. Local initiatives are already emerging in these places and Surroi's media holdings guarantee ample coverage for Ora's campaign.

But with the start of the election campaign barely two months away, the new party may have missed the boat, a senior political figure commented to IWPR. "The optimum time to launch a new party would have been on March 19, the day after the riots, when people were so disillusioned by what was happening around them. Now we are in the height of summer, and they are more concerned about their holidays," he said.

In preaching a message of change, Ora will be challenging the expectations of a significant part of the electorate, which prefers to receive assurances of "no return to Serb rule" than to accept that some social reforms and issues do not depend on Kosovo's final status, and must be addressed in advance. At the same time, many voters are now so deeply disappointed with the current political leadership, that Surroi and Hysa may stand a better chance now than at any time in the past.

To that end, Surroi offered the international conference on July10 an unpleasant vision of the future. "The worst that could happen would be a repeat of the March violence, an excuse for UNMIK not to reform itself and insist on maintaining the status quo."

Arben Qirezi is a regular IWPR contributor.

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