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Kosovo Opposition Flexes Its Muscles

Growth of a real opposition force in Kosovo could provide much-needed shot in the arm for territory’s limp democracy.
By Tanja Matic

Members of Kosovo’s biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, are set to take part in an internationally designed course aimed at helping them develop their skills as a constructive opposition in parliament, IWPR has learned.

The course, designed by British experts and drawing on Britain's long expertise in parliamentary government, forms only part of a wider drive to strengthen - and give a focus to - Kosovo's hitherto feeble opposition.

The latest initiative comes after the formation of a new government in Kosovo, which, unlike the previous one, does not include all three biggest ethnic Albanian political parties.

Analysts say the fact that at least one large party is now outside the government will benefit Kosovo’s political scene, stimulating the growth of a real opposition and so creating a more pluralistic climate.

Xhavit Haliti, PDK member of the presidency of the Kosovo assembly, told IWPR the opposition aimed to launch a democratic struggle in parliament, criticising the government and insisting on open parliamentary debates.

“We won’t seek confrontation for the sake of confrontation but in order to protect the interests of citizens and the views of those we represent,” he said.

“We want a consensus between those in power and the opposition on the big issues but when it comes to internal affairs and the government’s work, we will be a strong, democratic opposition - just like anywhere else.”

Shkelzen Maliqi, a well-known sociologist, said the creation of a more credible opposition in Kosovo would contribute to the emergence of clearly defined political parties, which has not happened before.

So far, Maliqi said, there have been no major differences between the platforms of the various parties, “Now I expect to see clearer profiles developing.”

Outlining what this meant in practice, Maliqi suggested that the PDK, for example, would develop on the lines of a classic western social democratic party.

“I believe they will set up a sort of a shadow cabinet and more actively monitor mistakes made by the new Kosovo government,” he added.

Kosovo has enjoyed limited self-government since the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, in 1999 assumed control of the territory following the withdrawal of Serb forces.

Kosovo’s first parliamentary election took place in 2001, leading to a coalition government of the three biggest parties.

It was headed by the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, led by Ibrahim Rugova, now Kosovo president, and two parties formed from the remnants of the disbanded guerrilla army, the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

These were the PDK, under Hashim Thaci, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, led by Ramush Haradinaj, now Kosovos prime minister.

The decision by the three parties to share both power and posts meant that a genuine opposition to the government scarcely existed.

But after Kosovo’s second parliamentary election in October 2004, the LDK and AAK formed a new government, leaving the PDK, which won around 29 per cent of the vote, on the outside.

In addition to the PDK, the growth of a strong opposition will be helped by the general election debut of ORA (literally Its Time) headed by Veton Surroi, a well-known journalist and publisher, which won about 7 per cent.

If ORA joins forces with the PDK, the combined opposition bloc would muster almost a half the seats in the Kosovo parliament.

Jetemir Balaj, of ORA, told IWPR that his party would take an active role in the ranks of the opposition, scrutinising the work of government and forging ad hoc alliances in parliament on the basis of joint objectives.

“We will join forces with anyone in the parliament advocating the same ideas as us,” said Balaj, “though I do not think we will form a permanent coalition with any particular party.”

Scarlett McGuire, a British political analyst who advises Kosovo politicians on public relations, said the lack of a real opposition had seriously hindered Kosovo’s political and social development.

The existence of an opposition is part of what democracy is about, she told IWPR.

“In coalition governments with no opposition, there are no alternative ideas and such coalitions are often run on the basis of the lowest common denominator,” she said.

Addressing the potential role of the PDK and ORA, McGuire added, “ I assume they will approach proposals constructively and if they have an alternative option, they will show it and negotiate with the government.”

Soren Jesen-Petersen, head of UNMIK, highlighted the importance of creating a genuine opposition to the government in Kosovo in his New Year's greeting to the people of the territory.

Following the recent elections, he remarked, “We have a new government and an opposition for the first time. I am working closely together with everybody in a true partnership.”

Maliqi said he hoped a more effective opposition would raise peoples democratic awareness and draw into the political process some of the large number of Kosovars who did not even vote last time.

This is important for the half of the total electorate who abstained from voting in the recent parliamentary elections, he said.

A straw poll conducted by IWPR in the streets of Pristina confirmed that Maliqi’s hope may be well founded.

Dardan, 32, who said he had not voted in previous elections, said the emergence of a real opposition in parliament had fired his interest.

“The creation of an opposition is a victory in itself, and particularly the fact that we have now a strong opposition,” he said.

Kosovo’s media may also expect to profit from the establishment of a credible opposition, analysts say, as they will now be able to present a debate on conflicting opinions to the public.

At the same time, they hope to gain access to more information on such delicate topics as corruption, as the rival parties are now thought to be more likely to leak information to the media on their opponents.

Altin Ahmeti, a journalist specialising in the economy, said he expected the media to serve more effectively from now on as a public watchdog.

“We will have more insight more easily into important and classified documents, now that one of the former ruling parties is no longer in power,” he said. “I also expect the government to become more cautious in the future.”

Tanja Matic is IWPR Belgrade’s project coordinator. Research for this article was conducted with the help of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights based in Belgrade.

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