Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Kosovo Waits For The Vote
By Blerim Shala in Pristina (BCR No. 96, 26-Nov-99)
The international community faces some difficult months ahead as it
wrestles with the problems surrounding the organisation and probable
outcome of democratic elections in Kosovo.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the international community, under the auspices of
the Dayton peace accords, rushed the vote, ensuring that the nationalist
parties responsible for the war in the first place were legitimised in
power. Despite some shifts, the fundamental problem remains, ensuring that
the international civil and military protectorate will remain in place for
In Kosovo, Carl Bildt, UN special envoy to the Balkans and former High
Representative in Bosnia, has suggested elections be held by 2001. Bernard
Kouchner, head of the international administration, said in September that
local elections should be held in spring 2000, paving the way for general
Two big problems need to be resolved prior to any vote - technical problems
with political repercussions, and political problems with technical
The technical problems are connected to the registration and provision of
identity documents. Last spring, when hundreds of thousands of Kosovo
Albanians were forcibly driven out of the province, Serb forces sequestered
and destroyed their documents.
The registration process will cost approximately 16 million dollars and
will take at least five months to complete. But before it can begin, a
decision must be taken as to the criteria for claiming Kosovo citizenship:
place of birth, long-term residency or parentage.
There is also the question of the voting rights of emigrants - some 500,000
Kosovo Albanians have left the region since 1990 to seek asylum all over
Europe and an estimated 100,000 Kosovo Serbs have left the province in the
last two years.
The difficulties in resolving these issues make the spring 2000 target for
elections appear unrealistic.
The second big problem is political. Bernard Kouchner's proposal, which
appears to enjoy the backing of most of the relevant international
organisations, envisages local elections taking place before general
The rationale for this proposal stems from the fear that Kosovo has no
experience of democratic elections and it would therefore be prudent to
experiment at the local level first. Furthermore, according to UN Security
Council Resolution 1244, executive power at the central level is vested
with the UN Administration, headed by Kouchner, while at the local level,
local people should be empowered through elections.
But perhaps the most persuasive argument for holding local elections first,
at least from the point of view of the international community, is the
well-founded fear that a duly elected and internationally recognised Kosovo
parliament would promptly proclaim complete independence, without even
calling for a referendum on the issue.
It is no secret that the vast majority of Kosovo Albanians want
independence. The Kosovo people voted for independence in the 1991
referendum. But it is understood that international acceptance is essential
if the final goal of an independent state is to be realised.
Unilateral declarations of independence are not the best political solution
and any Kosovo parliament would need to seek international recognition for
the peoples' demands for independence.
It is in the joint interest of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)
and the Kosovo people that democratic structures - at local and national
level - be established as soon as possible. In this respect, to call
elections at national and local levels at different times would not,
perhaps, be the best solution.
This could prove divisive: electing people only at the local level could
create a situation whereby local officials, backed by an electoral mandate,
are confronting appointees at the national level.
Cooperation between central and local government in this case could prove
very difficult, especially as central government controls decision-making
on vital issues, such as budgets, security, police and public services. It
is by no means clear how local government will coordinate with the
international administration on such issues.
Finally, it is crucial that elections in Kosovo take place only after the
reconstruction process is well under way. Only then will political activity
take on a more positive role, dedicated to the reconstruction of the
country, and allow for a peaceful and constructive election process.
Blerim Shala is editor of the Kosovo weekly Zeri and an independent member
of the Kosovo Transitional Council.
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