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

Victory Could Turn Sour for Rugova

Comment: Ibrahim Rugova's victory in last month's local elections could prove costly should his LDK councillors fail to deliver real improvements ahead of general elections next year
By Shkëlzen Maliqi

Having scored a convincing victory in last month's local elections, Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, now faces the rather unenviable task of tackling Kosovo's myriad and deep-seated problems.


Pressure on the party and its leader is intense. The LDK has little time to deliver much needed improvements in people's everyday lives before facing next year's crucial general election.


The LDK's success in the recent local poll - in which it won 58 per cent of the vote, nearly 30 per cent ahead of its nearest rival the Democratic Progressive Party of Kosovo, PDK - has been attributed by some to voters' conservatism and mistakes by political opponents. Others suggest Rugova's great charisma and ten years of political experience ensured voter support.


Few point to LDK campaigning issues, platforms or policies. Faced with the reality of governing Kosovo's local administrations, the LDK and Rugova's decade of political experience may well prove more of a hindrance than a help.


The party's new officials need to act decisively, show initiative and flexibility, not qualities the LDK is renowned for. The party's years of political experience, it seems, are no guarantee it can adapt to its new role and duties.


During the LDK's years under the Belgrade occupation, the party's strategy was one of inertia, lack of action - even after the Kosovo Assembly declared independence in September 1990. The LDK appeared afraid of brave initiatives, and avoided changes to internal party organisation or policy.


Rugova refused, for example, to allow the Kosovo parliament - elected by Kosovo Albanian voters in 1992 - to function. He kept his distance from party institutions at home and in exile, and has remained aloof to this day.


The LDK's leader has demonstrated an authoritarian leadership style in the past, which has contributed to the movement's atrophy over the years. A decade on and the party still has to demonstrate it is capable of moving forward without the pull of other forces to drag it along.


The current LDK leadership still has to live up to the policy, political and moral authority of the party's late leader Fehmi Agani - murdered as he tried to leave Kosovo in May 1999. Agani was proactive unlike the party's present leaders.


Meanwhile, other prominent LDK figures too have left the party, leaving it populated by 'aparatchiks' too timid to challenge Rugova's grip.


The election victory could seriously shake the LDK, exposing its lack of profile, beyond that afforded by Rugova, and a dependence on authoritarian decision making processes. The LDK's councillors need to take decisions on their own and not defer to their party leader at every turn.


The new local administrations have to resolve concrete issues such as schooling, rubbish collection, medical facilities, the paying of pensions and unemployment assistance. And although the United Nations administration's chief Bernard Kouchner retains a veto over the key responsibilities devolved to the local governments, the LDK will have to deliver results if it is to revive and become a serious political force in a future Kosovo democracy.


Rugova, meanwhile, has ventured out of his 'ivory tower' more frequently in recent months. Although he undeniably enjoys majority support among Kosovo Albanians, many say they voted for him only because he was more acceptable than his rivals.


At one time he commanded 98 per cent of Kosovo Albanian votes. Against this last month's 58 per cent could be interpreted as a marked slump in support.


The LDK also needs to make clear their stance towards Kosovo's Serb population and the new government of Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade. Last week, Rugova said Serbia should have no say in Kosovo's future.


In an interview with the German magazine "Focus", Rugova said, "Our independence should not be dependent on the democratic development of Serbia... After this awful war, the intervention and the presence of NATO in Kosovo, Belgrade should not have anything to say."


Rugova dismissed any thoughts of the Serbian general election, scheduled for December 23, being held in Kosovo. "Kosovo is not part of Serbia," he said.


The LDK leader did, however, reiterate his belief in co-operation with Kosovo's Serb minority, "It's not just their security which should be guaranteed, but also their political, economic and social integration."


Kosovo Serbs have welcomed Rugova's victory - he is seen as more moderate than his main rival Hashim Thaci, leader of the PDK and former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army.


How to handle the PDK is another question Rugova must answer. So far the defeated parties have expressed only anger and disillusionment over the results. The signs are they will be obstructive towards Rugova, whose policy they dismiss as 'soft'. They face a dilemma - to stay out of the municipal government or to participate.


The local elections were just a preliminary bout ahead of the main event - next year's general election. Having swept to victory on October 28, the LDK has won the right to govern at municipal level. Should the party beat the odds and produce results, it could reap great rewards in 2001. But Rugova may also have won a poisoned chalice, which could yet cost his party dear at the ballot box.


Shkelzen Maliqi is a publicist and in charge of Radio Free Europe correspondents in Pristina.


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