Kosovo president may assume more power


Proposed constitutional amendments call for the president to be elected by direct popular vote and would give the office additional powers.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 28/03/12


Under the proposed changes, Kosovo would join several of its neighbours in holding direct presidential elections. [Reuters]

Kosovo's president would be elected by a direct vote by citizens and be granted broad additional authority that could make the office one of the most powerful heads of state in the region, according to proposals approved last week by a Kosovo parliamentary commission.

The amendments call for Kosovo's president to also be head of the Kosovo's Security Council (KSC) -- a key security policy-setting commission that reports to the prime minister. The amendments also give the president authority to appoint judges, prosecutors, the ombudsperson and ambassadors.

The proposed changes will be considered by the constitutional court and parliament. If approved, a presidential election would be held six months after the laws go into effect.

Several other countries in Southeast Europe -- Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Croatia -- elect their presidents through a direct vote. But the extra powers being considered for the Kosovo presidency would give that position as much, if not more, power in comparison to its neighbours.

Kosovo's president is currently elected by parliament. President Atifete Jahaga, a former police commander, was elected last spring as a compromise candidate until the constitutional changes are approved.

Even as constituted now, the presidency already is a powerful figure relative to its regional counterparts, Parliamentary Commission Chairman Asim Bajrami told SETimes.

"The commission was careful to preserve the parliamentary frame because the prime minister remains the main stakeholder of executive power who comes from the parliamentary majority," Bajrami said.

Some experts, like Pristina University Professor Belul Beqaj, told SETimes that Kosovo's new president will have "similar powers to the president of Serbia and Albania in the security field."

The presidents in those countries head their respective national security councils in addition to being commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The Serbian president has the authority to declare an emergency with the government's consent, and can adopt measures to establish order and maintain peace.

The Albanian president -- who is not elected through a direct vote -- also heads the high council of justice through which he appoints judges, grants pardons and citizenships and appoints and withdraws diplomatic representatives.

Kosovo's situation, however, is unique due to the international presence in the country. "This changes the situation in Kosovo, not in terms of powers [granted], but in terms of their usage," Beqaj said. He added that NATO's presence in country remains very important, despite any powers the new president, or any other person, may gain.

"A potential threat [to regional security] does not depend on normative power or constitutional power, but on the factual power on the ground and the factual possibilities. There is no such a person at the moment who would represent such a threat," Beqaj said.

Other proposals to give the president even greater authority -- to appoint or dismiss the head of the country's intelligence agency and the governor of the central bank -- failed, with opponents arguing that the suggestions would make Kosovo's system completely dominated by the president.

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"Having in mind our experience and political culture, a strong presidential system can incite dictatorship or totalitarian governance. Kosovo should not depart from the European character and tradition on parliamentary republics," analyst Ramadan Ilazi, co-founder of the NGO Fol, told SETimes.

Ilazi also argued that the manner in which the leader is elected should not determine the president's powers. "Macedonia is an example where the president is elected through a direct vote by the citizens but his/her powers are more ceremonial," Ilazi said.

Pristina resident Luan Ibraj said that while the amendments should be welcomed because they will delineate the powers of the branches of government, electing a president by a direct vote will affect Kosovo's political stability.

"The political parties will not have an impact on the president; therefore he or she will not be a parliamentarian president, but a popular president," Ibraj said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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