Consolidating Democracy in Kosovo
Consolidating Democracy in Kosovo
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Consolidating Democracy in Kosovo

Two weeks after Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned and turned himself in to The Hague to face a war crimes indictment, Kosovo’s parliament on Wednesday (23 March) voted in the successor he designated. The choice of Bajram Kosumi was made against insistent contrary advice from representatives of the European Council, but in the circumstances, it was the right choice for Kosovo.

Bajram Kosumi’s nomination marks the continuation of the two-party coalition that put Haradinaj into the prime minister’s chair last December against the expressed preference of Kosovo’s main international sponsors -- the European Union and United States -- for a broad multi-party coalition to maintain inter-party stability and unity as Kosovo approaches talks on its future political status, expected later this year.

As such, Wednesday’s vote carries some risks of Kosovo Albanian political fragmentation in the crucial months ahead, but it also marks a determined step forward in the territory’s democratisation and capacity for self-governance.

Haradinaj’s hundred days of government turned out a pleasant surprise for the international community’s representatives in Kosovo. After two and a half years of sluggish, uncohesive, broad coalition -- in which ministries allocated between rival parties operated as separate islands of power and patronage, and a figurehead prime minister wielded no real authority -- here suddenly was functional government, working full tilt at the UN’s decentralisation and "standards" agenda, a program of action to accommodate Kosovo’s beleaguered Serb minority and develop governance capacity. Under Haradinaj’s energetic, bullying leadership, ministers from his own small party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), and President Ibrahim Rugova’s large party, Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), were pulling together as a team, galvanizing such government machinery as Kosovo has into motion.

Kosumi is a personable 45-year-old specialist in Albanian culture and literature, a political prisoner in the 1980s who has migrated through senior roles in various Kosovo Albanian political parties since the mid-1990s. He lacks Haradinaj’s dynamism and militant background, and some observers have questioned whether he has the mettle and authority for the job. However, many also thought Haradinaj would be a disaster when he started in December; in the event, he set a new standard for dynamic, responsive government and challenged his own society to transform and modernize itself.

Kosumi has pledged to push ahead with the "standards", leading a team that will be held accountable if its performance fails the comprehensive UN assessment due this summer, in turn a test that will determine whether a process to settle Kosovo’s future status begins this autumn. Previously, the lack of a single address for accountability gave all parties an alibi for failure.

After Haradinaj’s 9 March departure, President Rugova resisted heavy pressure to dissolve his party’s alliance with the AAK back into a broad coalition and cede leadership of the government to the opposition party, the Kosovo Democratic Party (PDK), the main political successor of the Kosovo Liberation Army -- pressure coming in particular from EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who rang him direct and flew to Pristina last week. Rugova also showed some rare moments of animation: "For the first elections, we listened to the international community, which requested a wide coalition. They require the same again. So why do we hold elections then?" He has a fair point.

With Kosovo so dependent on its decisions, the international community has become too accustomed to stage-managing the business of government formation here. While the international community’s brokerage of a broad coalition was essential after Kosovo’s 2001 elections, which produced a stalemate of no workable parliamentary majority for any narrower grouping of parties, its resumption of the brokerage role on this occasion was less necessary, appeared negligent of Kosovo's internal political dynamics, and risked retarding Kosovo’s democratisation. It ran close to overturning the results of the October 2004 elections: blocking a democratically mandated coalition that was, moreover, performing well. The UN mission chief, Soren Jessen-Petersen, appears to have orientated better in the situation, noting that in democracy "there are winners and losers", and helping to convince Solana and others last week that levering the loser of the election into the Prime Minister’s chair would be counter-productive.

But for democracy to take root, the political system has to give opportunities and space to the opposition. Solana played a useful role in compelling Rugova to meet with the opposition before announcing his nomination of Kosumi.

From now on, Kosovo's parliament must convene more often, and the opposition must be able to initiate debates. Unable since its formation to garner more than 30 per cent of the vote, and with voting patterns remaining largely pre-modern -- dependent on patronage and clan loyalty -- the PDK’s leaders are understandably anxious that the LDK-AAK coalition could lock it out of power long-term. Without control of any central government jobs or budget streams, the PDK may lose capacity to maintain its party structure, while the LDK, a formidable network based on the former provincial Communist party, consolidates further and edges the PDK out of public institutions where it has enjoyed influence since the 1999 war.

The international community could compensate by allocating significant democratisation assistance to the opposition, helping the PDK reform and develop toward its preferred self-image as the party of "the modern and progressive part of society".

With Kosovo requiring the development of a shared political platform for its forthcoming status talks Rugova should take his institutional role to "represent the unity of the people and guarantee… democratic functioning" more seriously, making his office in the government building his regular place of work, meeting regularly with all parties, disbanding his parallel security structure -- which orientated poorly after the roadside bombing of his motorcade last week -- and accepting the Kosovo police’s protection. If Kosovo is to mature toward statehood, its two main political forces, the LDK and PDK, must outgrow their zero-sum rivalry.

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