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Rugova Triumphs

Ibrahim Rugova's moderate policy wins over the voters in Kosovo's first free elections
By Shkëlzen Maliqi

Kosovo's first free elections were held in a serious and dignified way, reflecting voters' commitment to a democratic Kosovo.


In many ways, these were extraordinary elections, even historic. Citizens voted for their freedom and against the past, against Serbia and Yugoslavia.


That was why there was a massive turnout and why people waited for hours outside polling stations to perform their patriotic duty. Which party they cast their ballot for was a secondary issue.


Only local Serbs boycotted the ballot, as they still consider Kosovo part of Yugoslavia, or more accurately, part of Serbia.


The results are not a great surprise. Ibrahim Rugova' s Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, swept to victory in most of the municipalities, winning 58 per cent of the votes. The three parties spawned from the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA - the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, of Hashim Thaçi, the Alliance for Kosovo's Future, AAK, of Ramush Haradinaj and the Party of the Liberal Centre of Kosovo, PQLK, of Naim Maloku - gleaned 35 per cent of the ballots. Small centrist parties shared the remainder.


The LDK exceeded expectations largely because it drew the support of undecided voters on the eve of the elections. The PDK, the AAK and the PQLK did as well as opinion polls had predicted. The big disappointment was the poor performance by the centrist parties.


The LDK was helped by the splintering of the former KLA into three parties and by the fact that Naim Maloku and Ramush Haradinaj failed to win over urban and centrist voters.


Haradinaj's image as a war hero and serious politician was undermined in the run-up to the elections. He was involved in a number of violent incidents. On one occasion he was beaten by Russian K-For troops; in another he was injured in a personal dispute. Many of those who might have voted for his party were put off by the violence.


The PDK outperformed the other two former KLA parties, having established a fairly solid and stable constituency, but its lack of political experience showed during the electoral campaign. The party might have won more votes had it included more members of the Kosovo intelligentsia in its ranks and had some of its staff been less arrogant and violent in the build-up to the poll.


Another problem the PDK has faced is that in claiming to be the main political heirs of the KLA, the party has been held responsible, sometimes unfairly, for post-war violence.


The party though does not feel that it has lost that much ground in these elections. It will certainly be better prepared for the parliamentary ballot next year, which are seen as far more important as the future Kosovo assembly will determine how the province should go about winning independence - the ultimate goal of all Kosovo Albanian parties.


The LDK's electoral triumph is largely attributed to its leader. Most ordinary people and members of the intelligentsia still believe Rugova is someone they can trust, despite the failure of his policy of passive resistance and his controversial meeting with Slobodan Milosevic during the war last year.


In addition, the party won over voters by portraying itself as the victim of political violence and insisting that Rugova's moderate policy would best guarantee public order in the province - although it never articulated just how it was better able to keep the peace than its rivals.


It also did well out of others' mistakes.


Despite enjoying the support of much of the populist media in the province, it will not be easy for the LDK to run Kosovo's local authorities. They may come up against resistance from PDK supporters who are very well organised at local political level. It won't be surprising if this leads to tensions and even violence.


It looks very much as if these two parties will form the core of Kosovo politics for some time to come. For now, there appears little alternative to them. Some had hoped that one year after the Kosovo war, a civic movement might have emerged to challenge the populism of the LDK and the revolutionary fervour of the PDK.


Alas, this was not to be. Kosovo's civil society failed comprehensively at these elections. Preliminary results had suggested that the Green Party had done surprisingly well, but the initial optimism was premature. All the civic parties did badly - not even able to summon enough votes to form a coalition.


It will be some time before the emergence of a third force in Kosovo politics.


Shkëlzen Maliqi is a publicist and is also responsible for Radio Free Europe correspondents in Pristina.


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