Minority representatives claim their reserved seats in the Kosovo assembly are crucial for the minority vote.
By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 25/10/12
Not everyone agrees that reserved minority seats should stay open in the Kosovo assembly. [Reuters]
Twenty-five minority parliamentarians are making an effort to maintain their seats in the Kosovo assembly, as their privilege will end with the current legislative mandate. According to the 2008 constitution, minority communities in Kosovo enjoy 20 reserved seats in 120-seated assembly -- 10 for Serbs and another 10 for Turkish, Bosniak and Roma representatives.
The seats the minority parties win in a regular election are added to these numbers. But this is soon to end after the current second term.
The current legislative mandate is due to end in 2014, but there is an agreement between political leaders -- Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) head and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and opposition Isa Mustafa and Deputy Prime Minister Behgjet Pacolli -- to hold general elections in 2013 under a new election system.
In the future, 20 reserved minority seats will be filled only if minorities fail to win in elections.
The minorities argue that the reserved seats are crucial for the representation of their communities in the legislative body, since minority voters' numbers are generally small in the country.
"All [minority MPs] hold the same position, important for us. Seats in the parliament are our strength," Duda Balje, a Bosniak member of the assembly, told SETimes. She fears that terminating the right to reserved seats will prevent representation of minorities in Kosovo institutions.
"We're not strong in elections because we don't have a big number of Bosniaks living here, so we can't have the same quotas with other communities," Balje said.
According to the latest Kosovo census published in September, there are 27,533 Bosniaks in Kosovo, and another few hundred live in the country's north, and were not included in the census.
The request was signed by all minority MPs and filed to the government to initiate the proceeding. Balje said that the group met with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and foreign ambassadors in Pristina last month, and additional discussions are expected in the future.
Enis Kervan, a Turkish member in the Kosovo assembly, acknowledges that amending the constitutional predisposition requires firm support from Albanian members who constitute the majority. But he is optimistic that the dominant ethnic majority will support the minority MPs' effort.
"We expect that the deputies of the majority community accept our circumstances and endorse our objective," Kervan told SETimes.
Lirije Kajtazi, a representative of Kosovo Democratic League -- the second biggest Albanian party in the assembly, however, said the period of reserved seats should come to an end.
"We extended them [minority MPs] two [assembly] terms as an opportunity to convince representatives and their communities that they should be part of Kosovo institutions and state-building," Kajtazi told SETimes.
She thinks that that phase was successfully accomplished, and in normal democratic circumstances there is no need for reserved seats.
Minority representatives agree, but fear that in a normal process they will not be able to enter the parliament, which is crucial for their rights.
"We are all fighting for our rights, which makes our presence in the assembly important. The parliament is where we can fight for our rights, especially when it comes to minority rights laws," Balje said.
Nebojsa Peric, a local Serbian political activist from Gracanica, told SETimes it is essential for both Serbian and other non-Albanian communities to be represented in the highest legislative body with an appropriate number of representatives.
"The existing solution showed to be effective and a boost to the representatives of non-Albanian communities to take part in the political life of Kosovo in significant numbers; such should be the case in the future," said Peric.
He worries that the removal of reserved seats could lead to a mono-ethnic assembly. According to him, that is against European values and contrary to Kosovo's goal to move closer to the EU.