Kosovo held parliamentary elections on 6 October. Blerim Vela outlines five key lessons that can be learned from the vote, which saw opposition parties make substantial gains.
Election Day in Kosovo went by without any major incidents that could harm the electoral process, despite a narrow race between Kosovo’s political parties. The preliminary results showed that voters had punished the established parties in power and given their support instead to two main opposition parties. This article identifies five key lessons from the elections which shed light on Kosovo’s political system and its future.
Vetëvendosje (Self-determination) won most votes with just over 25 per cent in a head to head race with other parties, although its lead over the second party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) remained less than one per cent. The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) saw their weakest electoral result since 2000, receiving around 21 per cent of the vote, while the outgoing Prime Minister’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), in coalition with the Social Democratic Party (PSD), had a minimal increase in comparison to the 2014 elections, getting slightly above 11 per cent of the vote, despite the fact that the coalition aspired to win the elections. Another coalition between the Social Democratic Initiative (NISMA), the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) and the Justice Party (PD) had a bad result, struggling to pass the five percent threshold required to enter parliament.
Table: Provisional results in the 2019 parliamentary elections in Kosovo
Source: Electoral Commission
These elections brought about the political change that has been hoped for since the 2014 elections, when voters supported the opposition parties more than those in power. However, a decision of the Constitutional Court granting the right to the party or pre-election coalition that won most votes but not necessarily the majority of votes, has extended the life of the PDK-run governments that have been in power until now.
The turnout in the election was the highest since 2001, when more than 800,000 people voted for the first democratically elected legislature created by the UN interim administration in Kosovo. In the 2019 elections, over 850,000 people voted, not taking into account the votes of the Kosovo diaspora. As with previous elections, a considerable number of votes, more than 40,000 or 4.5 per cent of the overall votes cast were declared invalid.
A part of this total is likely accounted for by blank ballots, which can be considered as a protest vote towards one or all parties. However, a majority of the invalid votes stem from voters’ lack of information on how to express their political will using a paper ballot. The Central Election Commission and political parties seem to have failed to properly inform voters on how this should be done.
- Municipal and parliamentary elections are different in Kosovo
In the last 30 months, three election cycles have taken place in Kosovo: two parliamentary and one municipal. The results in these elections have once again proven that the performance of some political parties varies depending on the type of election. Some parties tend to perform better during parliamentary elections rather than municipal ones and vice versa.
While in the 2017 and 2019 parliamentary elections Vetëvendosje managed to secure more than 200,000 votes, at the municipal level, the party could not surpass 115,000 votes. AAK maintained the number of votes they had received in previous municipal elections, despite the party traditionally performing better in municipal elections than parliamentary elections.
In 2017, the PDK ran as a coalition with AAK and NISMA, which leaves little room to precisely determine the level of electoral support the party had in the previous parliamentary elections. However, the party fell under 200,000 votes this time round, which would be the first time this has occurred since 2001. This means the PDK will occupy the opposition seats in the Assembly of Kosovo after spending 12 years in power.
- A new generation is now shaping Kosovo’s politics
The elections marked a new beginning for the whole political scene, with Albin Kurti (Vetëvendosje’s leader and nominee for Prime Minister) and Vjosa Osmani (LDK’s nominated candidate for Prime Minister) achieving important electoral results. Moreover, today Vetëvendosje and LDK resemble political movements rather than political parties, where individuals with different values and stances have worked together to unseat the government led by the PDK and its allies, which had been regarded as corrupt and inept.
Besides embodying a generational change, Kurti and Osmani differ essentially from the existing political leaders due to their different understanding of political priorities and their vision of politics as a service to citizens rather than a vehicle for personal gains. The change achieved in the elections promises a new standard for good governance and institutional accountability within the new governing coalition.
- The government has been punished for corruption
The elections were also a reflection of the position of political parties within the former governing coalition between the PDK, AAK, NISMA and AKR. Voters have clearly punished the PDK, NISMA and AKR for what they see as corrupt and inept governance. Meanwhile, the AAK managed to increase its overall number of votes by adopting populist stances and policies, although this success was limited only to the western region of Kosovo. The party nevertheless fell short of its targets, suggesting its populist approach was not enough to overcome the legacy of corruption associated with the former government.
The Social Democratic Party (PSD), despite being nominally an opposition party in the previous legislature, backed the governing coalition in many cases. It was also punished for a lack of political consistency and cooperation with the AAK – something that was not in line with the expectations of their potential voters. The PSD will most likely fail to have a single MP in the new legislature, a significant drop compared to the previous legislature when its caucus had 12 MPs.
- (Un)principled coalitions?
During the pre-election phase, political parties did not form large pre-coalitions as they had done in 2017. However, some parties sought to increase their vote shares through coalitions with smaller parties that had concentrated support in specific municipalities.
This was the case with the decision of Vetëvendosje to include in its electoral list members of ‘The Alternative’, a party led by Mimoza Kusari, that resulted in an improved electoral result in the western municipality of Gjakova. Similarly, the LDK improved its share of votes in Gjakova as a result of a coalition agreement with a minor political party, the Albanian Christian Democratic Party of Kosovo (PSHDK), although it still came third. Meanwhile the PDK sought to increase its vote share through a coalition agreement with the Movement for Unification (LB) in Prishtina, Obiliq and Rahovec, however, the preliminary results in these cities did not suggest any increase in support.
- Srpska List cements its domination in Kosovo Serb majority municipalities
While all the attention was on the race among Albanian parties, in the Kosovo Serb majority municipalities, the contest was totally dominated by the Srpska Lista. The party managed to increase its share of the vote by 30 percent compared to the previous parliamentary elections.
One of the reasons for its political domination was the unequal nature of the political race, as well as intimidation aimed at other Kosovo Serb community parties. Moreover, the Srpska Lista enjoyed the full backing of institutions in Kosovo Serb municipalities, financed by Serbia’s government, which enabled it to increase its support. Other Kosovo Serb political parties were isolated, subject to threats, and restricted from presenting their views freely among the Kosovo Serb community.
This reflects a repeated failure by Kosovo’s institutions to create an environment for democratic competition and fair elections in Kosovo Serb municipalities. Despite remarks from international electoral observers, this situation will continue until Kosovo’s institutions take decisive action to support political pluralism in the Kosovo Serb community.
The election results confirmed that only Vetëvendosje and the LDK were able to attract wide popular and geographical support throughout Kosovo. By contrast, the AAK was confirmed as a regional party, lacking significant potential to expand its electoral base beyond Kosovo’s western region. The PDK, on the other hand, continued its electoral decline, with meaningful electoral support only apparent in a handful of municipalities.
The creation of the new Vetëvendosje and LDK government will mark the first full transfer of power after elections between previous governing and opposition parties since the creation of the Assembly of Kosovo in 2001. This represents a major achievement with regards to the consolidation of democracy in Kosovo and the decoupling of public institutions (a reversal of state capture) from the excessive political influence by the PDK-led governments.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo
Blerim Vela – University of Sussex
Blerim Vela is a PhD researcher on Contemporary European Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK.