Kosovo votes on Sunday for a new parliament that will have to navigate tense relations with Serbia, endemic corruption and possible war crimes indictments for some of its leaders. The early election is only the third since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008. But it “might be the hardest to predict,” according to Florian Bieber, professor of Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz in Austria.
A month after the last government lost a confidence vote, the battle for a new prime minister pitches an ex-guerrilla commander against a former student protest leader and an economist likened to French President Emmanuel Macron. But overshadowing the election is a new special court set up to try war crimes allegedly committed by members of the pro-independence Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought Serbian forces in the late 1990s.
Among those some speculate could be on the list of inductees – which may be announced later this year – are President Hashim Thaci and outgoing speaker Kadri Veseli, who both hail from the powerful Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).
The European Centre for Minority Issues, a Germany-based research institute, said the court’s arrest warrants could pose a threat to stability. Such arrests, “compounded with the political agenda, may severely hamper or even bring about the fall of the future government,” it said.
The new court was largely absent from the debate during the short election campaign. But the threat it poses could explain why the PDK decided to end its ruling coalition with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), said political scientist Loic Tregoures, a Balkans specialist.
The party may have pushed for a snap election to consolidate its position before the court begins work, he said. The PDK’s new alliance is the favourite to win and has been dubbed the “war wing coalition” owing to the prominence of former KLA fighters.
The coalition’s candidate for prime minister is Ramush Haradinaj, known as “Rambo”, whom Serbia wants to try for war crimes. Haradinaj has criticised EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina aimed at “normalising” relations. He says they should only move forward if Serbia recognises Kosovo – an unlikely prospect.
Another coalition has emerged around the centre-right LDK party, closer to civil society groups. Its candidate for premier is outgoing finance minister Avdullah Hoti. He has pushed a strongly pro-European platform and earned the nickname “Kosovo’s Macron”, promising to take on corruption.
Nearly 20 years after the war, political elites in Kosovo are “characterised by crime, corruption and nepotism,” according to an assessment by the Slovenia-based International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies. Citizens are also “waiting in vain” for the abolition of its visa requirement for EU states, it added