Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Old Foes Unite to Form New Kosovo Government

Unusual political marriage means ex-KLA commander will probably guide Kosovo into era of final status.
By Arben Qirezi

Post-election talks between Kosovo’s parties have ended in a controversial agreement between the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, to be coalition partners over the next vital four years when Kosovo’s final status will probably be decided.


The controversy factor lay in the fact that the AAK represents former guerrilla fighters who despise the LDK’s leader, Ibrahim Rugova, now Kosovo president, for his refusal to back violent resistance to Serb rule in the 1990s.


AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj is now expected to lead the new coalition government as Kosovo’s next premier.


The Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, and the Civic Initiative ORA, will form the opposition, along with some smaller parties and two Serbian groups, the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija and the Civic List Serbia.


The deal yoking former bitter political foes represents one of the strangest political combinations Kosovo has seen since the end of the armed conflict.


One of the main ex-Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, commanders, Haradinaj is a popular hero of the 1998-99 uprising against Serb rule. Many of his former brothers-in-arms insist Rugova’s non-violent tactics were virtually treasonous.


On its front page, the pro-PDK newspaper Epoka e Re called Haradinaj a traitor for prolonging Rugova’s political life. The paper said tough times lay ahead and warned that the new coalition would not survive. ORA spokesperson Jetemir Balaj took a similar line.


Unlike in 2001, when it took four months and the active involvement of UNMIK and the US to cobble together a government, the international community stayed on the sidelines this time.


Soren Jessen-Petersen, head of the UN-led administration in Kosovo, UNMIK, welcomed the fact that the parties hatched an agreement without international involvement, saying it reflected what voters wanted. In the October 23 vote, the LDK won 45 per cent, the PDK 29, the AAK nine and ORA six.


Encouraged by its own score, the PDK at first called for an all-inclusive government, conditioning its own participation on the appointment of PDK boss Hashim Thaci as prime minister.


Instead, the LDK-AAK deal ruined Thaci’s hope of being the prime minister who led Kosovo towards independence.


Only days ago, it seemed the deal might fall through. When on November 6 the Hague tribunal asked to interview Haradinaj in Pristina over his wartime conduct, the AAK suspended talks with the LDK until the tribunal had clarified its intentions.


There is speculation that Soren Jessen Petersen held private talks with Carla Del Ponte on November 14. Either way, when the tribunal chief prosecutor did not press on with an indictment against Haradinaj, the LDK and the AAK decided to go ahead and form a government.


The tribunal has not said it is giving up investigating Haradinaj’s role in the Kosovo conflict, however, so question marks will dog a future Haradinaj-led administration. “Relations with the tribunal are the biggest impediment for the new government,” ORA leader, Veton Surroi, said.


Reflecting the PDK’s disappointment, the party presidency criticised the new LDK-AAK coalition as “exclusive, unsustainable …and ineffective”.


Indeed, the PDK seems all set for the role of a strong opposition. The PDK member of the assembly presidency, Xhavit Haliti, told IWPR the PDK would “effectively oppose government policies”. He added, “The time when the Kosovo assembly was an instrument of its president and when Kosovo was governed with fairy tales has passed.”


Haliti also excluded the possibility of PDK inclusion in a Kosovo negotiating team if a dialogue began with Serbia in the run-up to the final status talks.


“While the PDK remains in opposition, it is unreasonable to serve as an instrument of the government,” he said. “Rather, the PDK will insist on an open parliamentary debate about the political processes leading to final status and [insist on] the government’s accountability about all steps it takes during this process.”


The LDK-AK deal will not win many plaudits abroad. The international community favoured an all-inclusive coalition in Kosovo, possibly led by Thaci or by current premier Bajram Rexhepi, as it wanted to see a consensus over the difficult decisions Kosovo must take prior to final-status discussion, such as decentralisation and improving the position of Kosovo Serbs.


Significantly, no foreign representative, except the United Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, greeted the new agreement, highlighting international unease over the idea of Haradinaj leading Kosovo into the final-status era.


At the same time, Jessen-Petersen has made it clear that UNMIK believes the deal over a new government must be respected. “Opposing this candidate would mean opposing democracy,” he said.


Aware of the opposition he may face among the western powers, Haradinaj insisted he would focus on the issues that the West wants to see Kosovo tackling.


These start with standards, decentralisation and opening a dialogue with Serbia and the Kosovo Serbs. Turning specifically to the thorny issue of Kosovo’s Serb minority, he promised to “work hard to promote freedom of movement and the full integration of Kosovo Serbs by extending government services equally in all areas inhabited by Serbs”.


Arben Qirezi is a political analyst and IWPR contributor in Pristina.