Kosovo Politicians Jostle for Power

New political parties are mushrooming in Kosovo in the run-up to municipal elections.

Kosovo Politicians Jostle for Power

New political parties are mushrooming in Kosovo in the run-up to municipal elections.

Political leaders in Kosovo are jostling for position ahead of local elections later this year.

Two senior members from Hashim Thaci's Party for the Democratic Prosperity of Kosova, PPDK, Ramush Hajradinaj and Naim Maloku, both former commanders in the KLA, have left to set up their own parties.

Hajradinaj established the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, a more radical alternative to the PPDK.

His alliance brings together several minor radical parties including the Kosova Popular Movement, LPK, the United Albanian Nations Party, UNIKOMB, Parliamentary Party of Kosova, PPK, and the National Liberation Movement.

Maloku's new party, the Liberal Center Party of Kosova, PQLK, offers a more moderate alternative to the AAK's platform. Maloku, a former member of Ibrahim Rugova's LDK, is expected to attract support from those in his old party disenchanted with Rugova's policies.

Fadil Hysaj, a co-founder of LDK, and Milazim Krasniqi, former LDK spokesman, have publicly criticised Rugova's tactics in recent months and are expected to defect to Maloku's camp. Such a rift would be the first significant breach within the LDK since its foundation a decade ago.

During the war, Maloku was closely linked with efforts to unite the KLA with fighters loyal to another former LDK leader and Kosovo's prime minister-in-exile, Bujar Bukoshi, who recently set up a non-profit foundation aiming to help rebuild the province's social institutions.

While in exile, Bukoshi had been responsible for collecting money from the Kosovo Albanian diaspora to finance the provinces parallel political structures.

As fighting intensified in Kosovo, money from the diaspora shifted towards the KLA's own fund, The Homeland Calls. The KLA meanwhile complained that Bukoshi was using his fund to finance a rival army.

The exact amount remaining in the Bukoshi run fund - estimates range from $30 million to $300 million -and the present whereabouts of the money have been the source of acrimonious debate among Kosovo's political leaders since the end of the war.

Thaci's liberation movement has been stung by defections over his signing of the Ramboulliet accord back in 1999, his agreement with the UN to disarm the KLA and his decision to dismantle the interim government.

Hajradinaj's is the most significant defections to date, but his departure may in fact prove advantageous to Thaci.

"If Thaci is smart he should be able to channel the negative publicity surrounding the KLA towards Hajradinaj, who is viewed by the internationals as the radical," a well-informed source at the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, said.

Thaci has already taken steps to shift his party's platform away from the issue of independence and towards the building of local institutions. Such a pragmatic line will surely ensure the continued backing of the United States government.

In contrast, Rugova continues to play on his "mythical" status and has become the most vocal supporter of independence for Kosovo. His party, however, does appear to be preparing for the upcoming elections with solid economic policies.

To participate in the local elections, all political parties must register with UNMIK. Part of that process requires a minimum of 4,000 signatures of support. Several smaller parties will probably be eliminated by this requirement - for example the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats - and seek to form coalitions.

With the possible exception of Rugova, the general public has limited knowledge of or contact with the political leaders in Kosovo. Many of the players are new to the political game. Just what they can offer the electorate will largely depend on Western financial support for Kosovo.

Fron Nazi is a regular contributor to IWPR

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