AIM: start

SAT, 19 JAN 2002 00:28:33 GMT

Still No Success in Efforts to Elect Kosovo's President

AIM Pristina, January 10, 2002

Kosovo has neither a president nor a cabinet, altough it received the right to form such institutions after general elections on Nov. 17. Three rounds of voting in a single month -- the interval between two sessions of Kosovo's Assembly -- have failed to produce consensus among Kosovo's legislators. The only presidential candidate, Democratic Alliance of Kosovo leader Ibrahim Rugova, failed to obtain even a simple majority in the third round, or the 61 votes he needs to be elected. After a session on Dec. 13, when 49 assemblymen voted for him, two other rounds were organized. Ballots were distributed to the the assemblymen (118 of a total 120), and after they were counted, Assembly Speaker Nexhat Daci (Democratic Alliance of Kosovo) said that some assemblymen had violated voting procedure. Of 80 ballots, 26 were invalid, and four indicated abstention. Rugova received only one vote more than in the preceding round. Dozens of journalists belonging to all of Kosovo's ethnic groups and some even from outside the province, tired of waiting and poor working conditions, cracked jokes such as the following: "If the voting continues at this rate, Rugova will need 11 more months to gather sufficient support."

When it appeared that the session would be adjourned after the second round of voting failed, the assembly speaker ordered a repeat and the would-be president obtained one more vote.

"Unfortunately there are some caucuses or parties that are de facto boycotting the balloting. Their members should vote as inidividuals. We need to finally learn what democracy is, we need to accept the results of the general elections and go forward," said Rugova after the balloting, showing no sign of changing his opinion, even after three failed attempts to elect him.

Representatives of other parties said that the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo should nominate someone else. Bajram Kosumi, vice president of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (which has eight seats in the Assembly) said "the voting has shown that Ibrahim Rugova does not enjoy the support of a majority in the Assembly. It is not only a procedural but a moral defeat. He should withdraw," said Kosumi. Arsim Bajrami, vice president of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (26 seats), stressed that "the present situation in the Assembly is due to the refusal of the group that won the most votes in the elections, but not enough to allow it to create all institutions on its own, to cooperate." According to him, the plan was to elect a president at a formal ceremony after reaching consensus on who will be Kosovo's president and premier. Bajrami said that plan was rejected by the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo, and the current situation was a result of that refusal.

Before the third session began, the situation was quite clear. Lack of political agreement made "reconciliation" between political parties impossible, and it was clearly confirmed by the ensuing debate, saturated with pathos. Democratic Alliance of Kosovo whip Sabri Hamiti said: "This is the moment of truth. The people of Kosovo, as well as our friends, expect us to elect a president," Hamiti said (putting the stress on pressure by foreign diplomats who for days have been demanding that all institutions be formed). The party's political rivals, however, clearly indicated they would not vote without prior agreement. Democratic Party of Kosovo whip Jakup Krasniqi said that after the "arbitrary" interruption of the previous session, his party hoped that the party that "has the key in its hands," the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo, will take the initiative, but that it did not do so. Muhamet Kelmendi, from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, also criticized Rugova's party for not taking any steps towards reaching agreement with other major ethnic Albanian parties. The "big" have allowed the "small" take over the game. A representative of the Kosovo Ashkali community, Sabit Rahmani, spoke out against voting before an agreement is reached among the ethnic Albanian parties. An almost identical stance was taken by Numan Balic, from the Vatan coalition, which also pointed out numerous dilemmas. He stressed, among other things, that the current sitiation was created by the major ethnic Albanian parties, and that it was not proper for any of them to resort to minorities to secure dominance.

"The Return coalition will vote, but its vote will be the same," said the group's whip, Rada Trajkovic, praising the talks between Ramush Haradinaj, Hashim Thaci and Ibrahim Rugova, who had shown a readiness to cooperate and resolve problems together. Trajkovic, however, used the opportunity and called on assemblymen to accept the Return coalition as one of the four highest ranked political forces in the general elections. She urged her ethnic Albanian colleagues to meet and talk about the future, not after being forced to by foreign representatives, however, but on their own. This was understood by analysts as a promotion of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's views, who on several occasions invited Rugova to Belgrade for a discussion of Kosovo's problems and future, without foreign mediation...

Rugova's loudest opponent was the National Movement of Kosovo's sole representative, Bedrush Collaku, who called for the forming of a commission to determine Rugova's character and his attitude during the war, his cooperation with the militants, and his visits to Belgrade (this speech prompted laughter, and not only in the hall were the session was held). It appeared that ethnic Albanian parties suspected Rugova had made some kind of a deal with the Return coalition, because their votes would suffice to elect him in the third round, and they insisted that "in the event Rugova is elected, they should openly say whose votes they have to thank for this..." Their suspicions were particularly boosted by a decision to change the voting procedure. While previously assemblymen had voted publicly, this time around ballots were distributed so that, as UNMIK officials put it, "voting would indeed be secret, instead of everybody knowing who has voted and who has not." The outcome of that round, however, dispelled all such suspicions.

Either way, the third session of the Kosovo Assembly only fortified the impression that Kosovo is undergoing a parliamentary crisis, which foreign diplomats described as a drama that has to be overcome. The head of the U.S. Office in Kosovo, John Menzis, urged ethnic Albanian political forces to find a way out and create Kosovo's institutions, assuring them the office will offer assistance in speeding up the process of building these institutions. However, he concluded that it is up to Kosovo's political parties to take the initiative and reach agreement. "Now, after free elections, the people of Kosovo do not want this Assembly to drag on, but to begin working and resolving all matters awaiting Kosovo," Menzis said adding that the U.S. will support the legitimate government of the region and anybody who takes office as Kosovo president.

The process of building Kosovo institutions, however, will be accompanied by a number of unresolved questions. The Constitutional Framework (a document passed instead of an actual constitution) lists in great detail the manner of building these institutions, but has not envisaged such a deadlock. This is why nobody can say with certainty what will happen in the future: will the voting again be repeated, or will new candidates have to be proposed, although Suzan Manuel, the UNMIK spokeswoman, said a day before the session that there are no technical or procedural obstacles to Rugova remaining the Alliance's candidate. Also, the Constitutional Framework does not say what will happen in the event no agreement is reached. One thing is certain, however: no one is currently in charge in Kosovo (if international community representatives are excluded), and it will continue to exist in an institutional and legal vacuum within the foreseeable future. It remains to be seen whether political parties will use this vacuum to revive talks that are presently deadlocked. The Democratic Alliance of Kosovo offered its political rivals five out of a total of seven cabinet portfolios that are to be controlled by ethnic Albanians, and the posts of deputy premier and deputy assembly speaker. However, they continue to demand that power be shared. The greatest discord exists over the office of remier, which Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo is very much interested in. And the situation was identical a month ago...

Besnik Bala