Kosovo Government building. Photo: Atdhe Mull.a.

Democracy improves in a “convulsive” year for Kosovo

Freedom House released their 2020 ‘Nations in Transit’ democracy scores on Wednesday, with Kosovo improving its democractic governance score “due to the concession of power by the ruling government to an opposition-led coalition.”

The ‘Nations in Transit 2020’ report was published by NGO Freedom House on Wednesday, recording a one percent improvement in Kosovo’s ‘democracy score’ during what was described by Freedom House as a “convulsive year” for Kosovo in 2019.

Kosovo’s scoring in the tracked categories of ‘national democratic governance’ and ‘independent media sector’ saw small improvements in 2019, the report noted, raising Kosovo’s score from 35 out of 100 to 36 out of 100, in which 0 represents the least democratic and 100 the most democratic. 

Other categories include ‘electoral process,’ ‘civil society,’ ‘local democratic governance,’ ‘corruption’ and ‘judicial framework and independence,’ none of which saw improvements in 2019.

Kosovo was given one of the lowest scores out of the nations in transition whose democracy is tracked by Freedom House. Every country in the Balkans recorded a higher score, with Kosovo topping only Moldova, Georgia and the nine European and Eurasian countries currently under authoritarian rule.

The Kosovo report characterised former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s coalition government that fell in July 2019 after his resignation as “extremely fragile, dysfunctional and weak,” marred by evident abuse of public finances and lack of substantial reforms in governance. 

The report, which was published by Freedom House in collaboration with the Prishtina-based Group for Legal and Political Studies, GLPS, attributed Kosovo’s improvement to the democratic transition from Haradinaj’s government to an opposition-led coalition between the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, and Vetevendosje, who took power for the first time in the party’s history in February 2020.

The mayoral elections in Serb-majority municipalities in May and the parliamentary elections in October were praised in the report. “Both votes were assessed to have been transparent, competitive, calm, and professionally administered, with the exception of the parliamentary elections in the Serb-majority areas, which were marred by outside influence from Serbian government officials,” the report’s executive summary states.

The Freedom House summary cited conclusions from the European Election Observation Mission following the October 2019 parliamentary elections, which noted that there had been “apparent intimidation and direct pressure from Belgrade” to ensure support for Lista Srpska candidates standing for election at the Kosovo Assembly. Lista Srpska MPs won all ten seats reserved for Kosovo Serb representatives at the Assembly in October. 

The report criticised procedural errors in the election certification process, but praised the swift negotiations between the leading parties that took place following the announcement of the results, despite their failure to reach a coalition agreement by the year’s end. 

“More than 80 percent of votes were recounted due to technical mistakes identified on registration forms. This delayed certification and hampered an otherwise successful electoral process,” the report states. “Despite the delays, the winning parties quickly negotiated a harmonized version of their governing programs.”

Although noting that the legal framework to ensure an independent media sector is “comprehensive” in Kosovo, political interference in the media sphere and the lack of implementation of press freedom legislation meant that little progress was made. The report praised the increase in support for independent media from the donor community, however, particularly in the area of “enhancing media literacy and countering disinformation.”

Government efforts to tackle corruption in the judicial sector improved over 2019, the report noted, but projects such as the Ministry of Justice’s Functional Review of the Justice Sector and the Justice 2020 initiative “misidentified core problems” and did not make way for concrete action to be taken, failing to “identify and address deficiencies” in the sector.

These government initiatives “provided technical recommendations for courts and prosecutors,” but did not tackle the issues of “personal integrity, morality, and values of individuals holding senior positions within the judiciary,” problems which the report noted were “indispensable” if judicial reform was to improve Kosovo’s failing justice system. 

While several cases involving high profile officials such as judges, police officers and former and current MPs went underway in 2019, the report highlighted that conviction rates and corruption indictments remain rare in Kosovo. “The competent authorities are reluctant to tackle and prosecute high-profile corruption, which ends up confining their efforts almost exclusively to fighting petty corruption,” the report states. “Between June and December 2019, the basic courts throughout Kosovo issued only 53 convictions out of 340 ongoing corruption cases.”

The Freedom House report was hesitant in its praise for the decision of the now-acting Kosovo Government led by Vetevendosje’s Albin Kurti to replace the 100 percent tariff on goods coming from Serbia with reciprocity measures, stating that while lifting the tariff was necessary to move forward, the introduction of reciprocal measures was likely to frustrate attempts towards resumption of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. 

“This move is expected to provoke more controversy than readiness from the Serbian side, potentially complicating any new start to dialogue between the states,” the report concluded.

06/05/2020 - 13:34

TAGS

06 May 2020 - 13:34

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.