Kosovo’s leftwing, anti-establishment party has emerged as the victor in snap elections that saw a record turnout.
On Monday, with 99 per cent of the votes counted after Sunday’s poll, not including ballots from the large Kosovan diaspora, the leftwing Self-Determination Movement, or Vetevendosje, had 48 per cent. It was the highest percentage that any party has won in a national election since the end of the 1998-99 war with Serbia.
The centre-right Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), had 17 per cent, while the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), had 13 per cent. Both of the latter parties, which have dominated politics in the Balkan country since the war, conceded defeat.
“This referendum on justice, work against state capture and corruption, was won. It is something unprecedented in postwar Kosovo,” said Albin Kurti, the leader of Vetevendosje, who ran on a “jobs and justice” platform. With a per capita gross domestic product of €3,500, and official unemployment of more than 30 per cent, Kosovo is one of Europe’s poorest countries. Kurti blames the postwar leadership of LDK and PDK for corruption that inhibited economic growth.
Though party leader, Kurti was ineligible to top Vetevendosje’s candidate list because of a 2018 conviction for setting off tear gas in Kosovo’s parliament several years before. However, the conviction should not preclude him from becoming premier, which is expected.
Despite winning such a sizeable proportion of the votes cast, Kurti’s party may fall short of the 61 parliamentary seats needed to form a government. He has ruled out forming a coalition with either LDK or PDK, and will probably turn instead to parties representing Kosovo’s minorities, who automatically receive 20 of the 120 seats in the Assembly.
Kosovo is now 90 per cent populated by ethnic Albanians. About 5 per cent of the population are ethnic Serbs. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence, which more than 100 countries have recognised, but crucially not Serbia, nor its allies Russia and China.
Kosovo and Serbia have been engaged in EU-brokered negotiations over “normalisation” since 2011. Kurti has been critical of that process and has said the so-called dialogue with Serbia will not be a priority.
Kurti served as prime minister for 50 days after a narrow victory in elections in November 2019, before being pushed out after a no-confidence motion in March last year. In Sunday’s election, he ran on a joint ticket with Vjosa Osmani, who resigned from the LDK last year after the party toppled Kurti’s government. Within two months, Kosovo’s parliament will hold a vote to elect the president, and Osmani is to be the candidate.
Observers hope that Sunday’s result heralds a period of relative stability in Kosovo, which has never seen a government finish a four-year term.
Lura Limani of Kosovo’s Open Society Foundation said: “It is the first time we have ever had a vote in which any single party has got so many votes. It is kind of an Obama moment of hope.”