Parliamentary elections in Kosovo

Parliamentary elections in Kosovo

On 7 October Kosovo went to the polls. Vetëvendosje was the single largest party. Meaning ‘self-determination’, Vetëvendosje has a history of being a protest movement that has criticised the role of the international community in Kosovo. 

A new party in power

Vetëvendosje have broken through by winning 25.49% of the vote, making them the largest single party in the assembly with 31 seats. They were closely followed by LDK who won 30 seats with 24.82% of the vote. PDK, the former party of President Hashim Thaçi, was third with 25 seats.

Vetëvendosje was also the largest party in the last election. Still, they were left out of government after a coalition of PDK, AAK, and NISMA – all of which are headed by former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters – took power. The outcome of this election will probably be an LDK-Vetëvendosje coalition. This would leave PDK, the party of many other former members of the KLA, outside of government for the first time since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. PDK’s third-place reflects widespread dissatisfaction with corruption and poor economic performance since 2008. 

Protest party

Vetëvendosje has been a protest movement, and then a protest party for much of its existence. It has called for the ejection of international forces from Kosovo to ensure self-determination for the people of Kosovo. Albin Kurti, the party’s candidate for Prime Minister, was arrested in 2009 when protests organised by Vetëvendosje turned violent. In 2015 and 2016 its MPs regularly released tear gas in the Kosovo Assembly to oppose a border delineation agreement with Montenegro and negotiations with Serbia. It has embraced positions that are often considered radical or nationalist, such as union with Albania. For these reasons, the international community, which has significant clout in Kosovo’s politics, has long been wary of Vetëvendosje. Now, however, their participation in the government cannot be avoided.


LDK is Kosovo’s oldest political party, founded in 1989. The leader of the non-violent resistance movement to Serbian rule, Ibrahim Rugova, served as its President. It has been in power with PDK as recently as 2017. It has worked together with the UN and EU and was involved in the dialogue with Serbia. The party hopes that its candidate Vjosa Osmani will be selected as Kosovo’s first female prime minister as part of the coalition agreement. The party is broadly centrist, and so will be the more moderate, conservative partner in the coalition. 

Dialogue with Serbia

Vetëvendosje has held a hard-line position on the EU-facilitated dialogue with Serbia. It led the fierce opposition to the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities, a vital part of the discussion that has failed to be implemented. It can be expected that Vetëvendosje’s approach will be tempered by the demands of government and the influence of LDK. The new government’s position on the dialogue with Serbia will indicate its overall direction.

The dialogue is currently stalled after the previous government imposed 100% tariffs on Serbian goods. Vetëvendosje has supported these tariffs. Albin Kurti, seen as Vetëvendosje’s candidate for Prime Minister, has stated that he is not eager to revive the talks. 

Relations between the new government and Serbia will be unfriendly at best and may lead to a confrontation. Vetëvendosje’s previous call for union with Albania is anathema to Serbia, which still views Kosovo as a part of its territory. Already Serbian defence minister has called Kurti “scum”, while the head of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Đurić has branded him an “extremist”. 

The Specialist Chambers

The fact that the PDK, AAK and NISMA will not be a part of the government may have significant implications for the work of the Specialist Chambers. The chambers were established to investigate war crimes committed by the KLA from 1998 to 2000. This potentially implicates several former fighters who are now politicians for these three parties. The most high profile potential defendant is ex-Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj of the AAK, who resigned to face questioning and so triggered the latest elections. 

The absence of these former fighters from the government is unusual for Kosovo. It may make it easier for them to be indicted than if they were in government, as they will have fewer ways to block the Chambers’ work. On the other hand, the Chambers’ focus on crimes committed by Albanians has been criticised by MPs from across the political spectrum, including from Vetëvendosje.  

Prospects for the coalition

Relations with the EU, UN, and Serbia can be expected to deteriorate if Albin Kurti becomes Prime Minister and seeks to implement Vetëvendosje’s more controversial policies. This could make it challenging to keep the LDK on board with the coalition. If the LDK gains important positions, such as Osmani as Prime Minister, then these relationships have a better chance of being maintained. Whatever happens, it will be difficult to reconcile the more extreme positions endorsed by Vetëvendosje with the more moderate attitude of the LDK. Kosovo has a history of short-lived coalition governments. There have been 5 elections in 12 years. The new government may well follow many of its predecessors in not seeing out its term.

Categories: Europe, Under The Radar

About Author

Luke Bacigalupo

Luke Bacigalupo is a political analyst currently based in Belgrade, Serbia. He holds degrees in South Eastern European Studies and Modern History from the University of Belgrade and the University of Oxford, respectively. He has previously worked as a political reporter at the Office of the EU Special Representative in Kosovo and at UNDP in Serbia.