Kosovo: Parties Beat Independence Drum

The issue of Kosova independence has predictably dominated campaigning for weekend parliamentary elections in the UN-administered province.

Kosovo: Parties Beat Independence Drum

The issue of Kosova independence has predictably dominated campaigning for weekend parliamentary elections in the UN-administered province.

Wednesday, 14 November, 2001

The parliament that emerges from Saturday's first free elections in Kosova will have little authority, but the ballot is nonetheless crucial for Albanians.

Over one million people will vote in a ballot for the 120-seat parliament, which, in turn, will choose a government, ministers, prime minister and a Kosova president.

The province has been under the administration of the UN Mission in Kosova, UNMIK, since June 1999, and the authorities that emerge from Saturday's ballot will thus have limited powers.

However, these elections are an important development for Kosova whose decade-long suppression by Belgrade ended with massive international intervention and 78 days of NATO bombing. The poll will provide those elected with an opportunity to prove they are able to lay the foundations for democratic institutions.

Local analysts say the campaign and the political rallies throughout Kosova did not have any impact on the ratings of the contenders. There are some 20 parties and initiatives fighting these elections, but just three political groupings dominate the scene.

According to a survey conducted by a local NGO, Kosova Action for Civic Initiative, KACI, in late September, the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, is expected to win around 52 per cent; the Democratic Party of Kosova, PDK, 29 per cent; and the Alliance for Future of Kosova, AAK, 11 per cent of the votes.

Analysts here say the election is less about the parties and their policies than a personality contest between their leaders.

After the war, the leader of the LDK, Ibrahim Rugova, a moderate who developed and led Kosova's passive resistance struggle, was considered politically dead because of the collapse of his policies and his meetings with former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic during the conflict. But he came back strongly in local elections of last year.

The PDK is headed by Hashim Thaqi, a former senior commander of the Kosova Liberation Army, KLA, and the leader of the Albanian delegation in the peace negotiations in Rambouillet and Paris, France in early 1999.

AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj, another former KLA commander-turned-politician, has had the most energetic and charismatic campaign. Western diplomats court him and claim that he is "a very good student" despite some claims he is suspected to have committed war crimes.

Haradinaj, compared to his former fellow fighter Thaqi, has managed to assemble moderate and experienced politicians and build a strong team of advisors.

An important element after the elections will be negotiations over a coalition government. According to one international analyst, some Western officials have suggested LDK should enter a coalition with AAK, as they believe it's not healthy for Kosova at this stage to have a one-party government.

Politics in Kosova after the elections will be complex. Despite their differences Albanians and Serbs have to get used to working together in the new institutions.

The participation of the Serbs in the ballot was finally decided last week, after the deputy prime minister of Serbia, Nebojsa Covic, signed an agreement with UNMIK administrator Hans Haekkerup, on November 5.

But it is unclear how many Serbs will actually cast their votes. The majority of around 100,000 Kosova Serbs live in KFOR-guarded enclaves, and there are some disagreements between the Serbian leaders about the poll.

There have been Serb voices calling for a boycott to protest the lack of security, lack of freedom of movement and poor living conditions for Serbs in Kosova. These voices say voting would give legitimacy to the new Albanian-dominated parliament and government.

But as for the campaign itself, the general feeling among people who have followed it is that the rallies were boring and the debates lacked substance.

Similar to the Kosova local elections held last October, the economy, crime, corruption, health-care and education were barely mentioned. Even electricity - or the lack of it - was not as an issue. The only real subject of discussion was the relative merits of the party leaders and, of course, Kosova independence.

The message on LDK posters visible all around Pristina and other cities is: "Freedom Democracy, Independence". The logic is: we won freedom with NATO's intervention, now we're building democracy with UNMIK's help and the next logical step is independence. But the LDK stops short of explaining how it will achieve this goal.

The PDK has a similar message, "the future starts today". Alluding to his past KLA connections, Thaqi's message is that the former fighters are the best guarantee for the future of Kosova, its independence and for keeping Serbia at bay.

The AAK claims it's going to lead the people of Kosova "neither left nor right but straight ahead" towards independence.

Despite all-party agreement on the goal of independence, the UNMIK administration has other ideas. It has been trying to make it clear that the march to full sovereignty should be treated with extreme caution.

In an interview Tuesday with Radio-TV Kosova RTK, a national broadcaster in Kosova, UN administrator Hans Haekkerup said, "any attempt by the new parliament to introduce any resolution on the independence of Kosova will be in contradiction of UN resolution 1244".

Indeed, the new Kosova governement will lack key ministries; it will have no ministry of foreign affairs, no ministry of defense, no ministry of the interior and no ministry of justice.

The irony is that no one believes Kosova can ever be a part of Serbia. But the issue of independence is being pushed aside by the international community , for the sake of maintaining the internal political balance in Serbia and because of fears of its possible implications on Republika Srpska and the Albanian community in Macedonia.

Sooner or later, these elections will have to be followed by a decision on Kosova's political status or offer some hope to Kosovars that this issue is going to be addressed in the near future. The ongoing lack of clarity itself could create instability in the region.

Agim Fetahu is IWPR's Macedonia project director

Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo
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