Local elections in Kosovo: (Un)successful democratic test?

Kosovo FM Enver Hoxhaj said that the elections were a joint success for democracy/state building and that Kosovo passed the democratic test.

Questions:

Would you agree with Hoxhaj’s statement or not and why, would you say that the elections were “the key elections” as many media headlines said?

Answers:

Beáta HuszkaSenior Research Fellow, Hungarian Institute of International Affairs

I would and would not agree with this statement, simultaneously. Let me clarify why I am being so controversial. From the Kosovo government’s point of view, the elections might have been a success, although it is difficult to draw general conclusions at this point as there will be a second round in 27 municipalities out of 38. The elections can be regarded as a success for three reasons. First, turn-out was significantly higher than during previous local elections which strengthens the legitimacy of the outcome. More importantly, however, Kosovo seems to have passed the test of democracy as the vote in the southern part of Kosovo was conducted in an orderly manner in general and was spared from serious irregularities (there were reports of abuses but the overall record appears to be much better than before). This is a considerable achievement, since previous elections were marked by “industrial scale of manipulation” in 2009 and 2010, including misuse and manipulation of votes, destroying of ballots and as well as falsification of voting results. Third, the Serb community in the south this time participated in greater numbers than ever before, which can be an indication of their integration into Kosovo’s political community. Thus, the Pristina government managed to ensure the respect of democratic standards in areas under its control.

The latter remark is very important, because territories outside of Pristina’s control – which is the north of Kosovo – were marred by serious disturbances. I would say that from the EU’s and the international community’s perspective the election was a failure. These elections were often mentioned as crucial because these constituted an important element in the implementation of the Brussels Agreement. According to this agreement, municipalities in Kosovo’s north should form the Association of Serb Municipalities after which the area could be integrated into Kosovo’s structures. This association could be created after local elections according to Kosovo’s laws, i.e. these elections. However, now that voting in the north was marred by violence and incidents, to such an extent that OSCE staff escaped from the area in a hurry Sunday evening, it is questionable that we will have valid and legitimate results. This means that the EU’s plan for stabilization cannot be carried out, at least has to be postponed, or the elections repeated maybe. At the same time, this turn of events was hardly a surprise, I myself predicted this scenario as a very likely one in an opinion piece in September. Many people in the north were against the Agreement, for them inciting low scale violence was the easiest way to undermine its implementation. Yet, even though the elections failed in the north and they failed also regarding the fulfillment of their wider purpose, this cannot really be blamed on Pristina, as KFOR and EULEX were in the position to ensure security during the ballot.

Natasha Wunsch, Associate Fellow, German Council on Foreign Relations

Whereas the participation of Serbs below the Ibar river once again showed their willingness to become part of the Kosovo institutions, the incidents in the North clearly show that the situation in this area is not yet resolved. Given the disruption of the electoral process in several election offices in Serb-inhabited areas, the elections in the North can be hardly judged as a success. Instead, further efforts will be needed from both the Kosovo side to convince Serbian voters that participation in the elections is in their interest. The handling of the election outcome in the North, especially of calls for a re-run of elections, will be an important indication of the extent to which Kosovo authorities are able to live up to this challenge.

The elections were an important milestone as they were the first following the Brussels agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, and the highest-ranking Serbian politicians explicitly encouraged the participation of Serbian voters in Northern Kosovo. Yet, the incidents that took place in several election offices in the North, as well as the apparently low voter turnout among Serbian voters, show that voices judging this democratic exercise as the sign of a full integration of the Serbian population into Kosovo were premature. It remains to be seen whether election results can be announced at all for the Northern municipalities, or if the Central Election Commission opts for a re-run of the elections in those municipalities. Nonetheless, the support for voting by President Nikolic and Prime Minister Dacic shows that rethinking has begun in Belgrade, and future elections will hopefully help to consolidate the inclusion of Serbs into Kosovo institutions.

Leon Malazogu, Executive Director, Democracy for Development Institute

These elections were key in three aspects: (a) north participating for the first time, (b) key as barometer ahead of general elections next year, and (c) as a test whether Kosovo can prevent electoral fraud. The north did participate significantly and they were demolished by those who were afraid that elections were going to be successful. Also, the level of fraud fell significantly so these elections are likely to receive a positive note by the EU.

James Ker-LindsaySenior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe, The London School of Economics and Political Science

Yes, these were key elections – from several perspectives. It was not only a test of the development of democratic structures and institutions in Kosovo, it was also an important indication of how the situation with the Serbian community developing.

Overall, and leaving aside the situation in the north, I would say that the elections have been a success. There have been very few allegations of intimidation or irregularities in areas where there is a clear Albanian majority. This will be read as a sign that the political situation is becoming more stable and that the political system is slowly but surely maturing.

Even in Serbian areas south of the River Ibar, there are good reasons to view the elections as a success. Although many Serbs still oppose Kosovo’s declaration of independence, they appear to have recognised that, like it or not, this is the reality they face. They have to make the most of their situation. Indeed, it was rather incredible that the turnout in these areas was actually higher than in the Albanian areas. Few would have expected this.

Of course, the situation in the north, where the Serbian communities have steadfastly rejected Kosovo’s independence and have done everything to ensure that Pristina has no control, is a lot more worrying. The violence directed at polling stations will be need to be thoroughly investigated and decisions taken on what to do next. Will the elections be annulled and rerun? There are also major longer term issues about how best to deal with the Serbian community there. This will be a key question for Belgrade, Pristina and the European Union in the weeks and months ahead.

Overall, I would say that Kosovo has passed an important democratic test. Obviously, there is still a lot more that needs to be done, but these elections will certainly have pleased Pristina and a lot of Kosovo’s key international supporters, especially those within the European Union. However, as has also been seen, the situation regarding the Serbs in the north is far from resolved.

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