Kosovo: More Trouble for Rugova

The authority of the new Kosovan president is being threatened by one of his old political rivals.

Kosovo: More Trouble for Rugova

The authority of the new Kosovan president is being threatened by one of his old political rivals.

Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova, newly installed after nearly three months bitter political haggling, now faces another challenge - this time from his old rival Bujar Bukoshi who wants to replace him as leader of the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK.

Bukoshi created a major stir last weekend when he announced that he aimed to start a new party of his own - which could conceivably lure away many LDK deputies. It might leave Rugova as a president without control of parliament.

In his interview with Koha TV, Bukoshi said, "In spite of my announcement about a new political party, I continue to be a member of LDK as we speak." Analysts said he was leaving the door open for a compromise.

Because he is now the president of Kosovo, Rugova cannot retain leadership of the LDK. His successor will be decided at the next party convention, expected this spring. By posing the prospect of a new and disruptive party, Bukoshi is effectively blackmailing Rugova into backing him for the party leadership.

Bukoshi enjoys considerable support from LDK members within parliament and outside it. He declined to stand for parliament in November 17 elections because of a feud with Rugova going back to 1995 over the control of parallel institutions in Kosovo.

One senior LDK official warned that Bukoshi's move to form a new party could not be ignored. Under Kosovo's electoral rules, deputies are free to switch from party to party in the assembly without submitting themselves for re-election. Defections to any new party could leave the LDK without overall control of parliament.

Bukoshi, a surgeon by profession, started his political career as secretary general of Rugova's LDK. He became widely respected while Kosovan prime minister-in-exile during the Nineties, after Milosevic stripped away Kosovo autonomy in 1989.

In this role, Bukoshi's principal task was to raise funds for parallel institutions set up by Kosovo Albanians opposed to Serbian rule.

Bokoshi's fund raising proved very successful. By levying a three per cent charge on the incomes of Kosovo Albanians at home and abroad, he collected around 300 million German marks between 1991 and 1999.

However in 1995, Rugova and Bukoshi fell out over administration of the parallel system and the disposal of funds. In 1996, Bukoshi criticised Rugova's moderate attempts to reach a compromise with Milosevic on returning Albanian schoolchildren to full-time state education. He accused Rugova of "abandoning the policy of independence".

As a result, Rugova began to by-pass Bukoshi over key decisions.

In retaliation, the latter cut funding to the LDK in 1997, leaving its president without enough money to pay his telephone bills. Rugova then sought to establish an alternative money-raising arm in Germany, the so-called "Aachen Fund".

The picture changed in 1998 with the emergence of the politically aggressive Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, which challenged both Bukoshi and Rugova. The KLA took effective control over Kosovar politics with the formation of Hashim Thaci's provisional government during the Kosovo conflict in March 1999. In February 2000, this authority was abolished with the formation of UNMIK-led Joint Interim Administrative Structure.

At that time, Bukoshi used what funds he had left, about 56 million marks, to create the Union of Funds for Reconstruction of Kosovo, UFORK. Despite his absence from politics, he funded local projects in LDK ruled municipalities, strengthening support for the party.

By keeping party control in the hands of a limited circle of loyal activists and friends, Rugova has caused wide dissatisfaction in LDK ranks. In the recent drawn-out discussions on forming a government, Rugova almost completely ignored key figures in his party.

But Rugova's overall popularity remains high and Bukoshi is clearly reluctant to engage in a head-on clash over the nomination for party leadership. In such a confrontation, Bukoshi could face significant resistance from old adversaries like Edita Tahiri and Rugova's close associates, such as Sabri Hamiti.

Getting Rugova on his side would greatly improve Bukoshi's chances of winning the leadership contest. It is to this end that the latter appears to have dangled the prospect of creating a new party. Both men know that a new party would create turmoil in the LDK and work to the advantage of Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, in the forthcoming local elections in September.

Arben Qirezi is a regular IWPR contributor.

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