Newcomers vie for voter attention in Kosovo

29/11/2010

In less than two weeks, Kosovo voters will head to the polls for snap elections. Two relatively new parties are hoping to woo them away from the political establishment.

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina – 29/11/10

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Voters head to the polls for snap elections on December 12th. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]

Analysts point to a trend in Kosovo: the establishment of new political parties shortly before elections, by people from existing political parties or from some other aspect of public life. These new parties try to offer voters a different platform in hopes of attracting support.

In 2004, Veton Surroi's ORA was the most successful political party formed before elections, gaining seven seats in the Assembly. Now just days before the early elections in December, a couple of parties are attracting attention: the left-wing nationalist Vetvendosje and the centrist New Air Party-FER.

FER, founded by activists Shpend Ahmeti and Illir Deda in October, promotes a new generation of politicians.

"The disappointment and disillusionment of the Kosovo citizens are at a high point," Ahmeti tells SETimes. "What we need are fresh ideas, a new approach and a change in the political class." Nearly all members are from civil society and are professionals, educated abroad, and with no political experience. FER supports individual freedoms, a market economy, equal opportunity for all, and social welfare, including minimum protection for vulnerable groups.

The party also wants to be equal partners with the international community.

"Kosovo is at a crossroads. After the declaration of independence, Kosovo has now moved its focus to economic development, anti-corruption, European integration, an agenda which the current political class has not been able to deliver on," Ahmeti tells SETimes.

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FER's founders Illir Deda (left) and Shpend Ahmeti. [FER]

The Vetvendosje Movement, founded by Albin Kurti, has been around longer and is known for its strident opposition to the UN administration of Kosovo and the Athisaari Plan. "We want Kosova to be a normal democratic state, which means having sovereignty and economic development, and we cannot have progress -- using this Ahtisaari Plan -- to construct a state that focuses on its citizens and not Ahtisaari," says Kurti.

It is the virtually the only political party in Kosovo that promotes its ideas through protests, many of which turn violent. "We need politicians who fear their citizens, and not citizens who fear their politicians," Kurti tells SETimes.

The party has no qualms in telling voters it is participating in these elections in order to gain the seats it needs in parliament to change the constitution. "

We don't expect justice or mercy from the regime that is in power and they definitely won't hesitate to manipulate or abuse the election in different ways, but I think the people are increasingly discontented with their damaging policies and in fact even more often with their utter lack of policy, and so the situation must change. "

Both Kurti and Ahmeti agree that the success of their parties is galvanising the older ones, such as Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, into action.

"The parties in power are rushing for [snap] elections because they know that the new parties are quickly gaining ground on them," says Ahmeti.

"Politicians are in a rush because they know that their credibility is continually degenerating, while support for Vetevendosje is steadily growing as is popular discontent," says Kurti.

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"People are increasingly discontented," the Vetvendosje movement's Albin Kurti tells SETimes. [Reuters]

Vetvendosje says that equality before the law is essential for the justice system, and that rule of law must be linked with justice and civic rights, and not with regional stability and security. Kurti says his party is committed particularly to the effective implementation of the rule of law in addressing war crimes, corruption, Serbia's parallel structures, and the grey economy.

The recent break up of the ruling coalition, which prompted these snap elections, meant less to the public than to those in power, Kurti says. "The institutional crisis is more a crisis for politicians than for the citizens. For citizens, the real crisis is socio-economic. They are hungry every day. Kosovo's citizens have been experiencing deep crisis for a long time, while this institutional crisis is just a crisis for the politicians."

Kurti criticises the current political leaders, who he says will manipulate the elections and lack a culture of responsibility.

"The state of Kosova must be turned from a state for some people, to a state for everyone; from a state which is in the function of foreign traders, to a state in the function of the local producers, because without production, employment is not possible, and without employment, there is no money," he says.

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FER says it will work to avoid deeper mismanagement and despair. It does not consider negotiations with Serbia a top priority. Rather, the party emphasises socioeconomic issues as more important right now.

Vetvendosje says it is wrong for Kosovo to have to negotiate with Serbia about itself. Kurti says the talks, which will begin after the elections and new institutions are in place, have more to do with Belgrade's potential EU accession plans.

"The purpose of those negotiations is Serbia's faster integration, and not the removal of Serbia from Kosova," Kurti says. "Instead, Serbia is interested in creating a Serbian Republic in Kosova, like Republika Srpska [in BiH] through those negotiations. For the north, it wants autonomy, and for other enclaves it wants a so-called Ahtisaari Plus, transforming enclaves into exclaves with the purpose of destroying Kosova's independence from inside and making it a non-functional state."

For the new parties the upcoming elections will provide a test of how well they've promoted their programmes and convinced the electorate that they are the right people for the current situation. Recent polls by the Gani Bobi Institute suggest that Vetvendosje has the support of 11.9% of voters and FER has 4.9%.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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