Illustration: Jete Dobranja for Prishtina Insight.

Is it time to rethink Kosovo’s political system?

For more than a decade, no Kosovo Government has completed its full mandate amid crises that have called into question the functioning of state level politics.

Early elections in the Municipality of Podujeva last Sunday once again proved that political strongholds in municipalities are a thing of the past. Over 50 percent of voters in Podujeva elected a new mayor, Shpejtim Bulliqi of Vetevendosje, ousting LDK from office for the first time since municipal elections began in Kosovo in 2001.

The electoral model for municipalities was changed in 2007, enabling citizens to vote directly for the mayor, which has led to the extinction of party strongholds in most municipalities and increased levels of accountability. The biggest change was seen at the 2013 local elections, when 25 out of 38 municipalities required a runoff election. By the end of the electoral process, power had changed hands in 55 percent of municipalities.

These changes in power at the local level and the abolition of political strongholds have in turn led to increased responsibility, accountability and transparency. According to periodic measurements by the GAP Institute, transparency regarding municipalities’ budget has increased significantly. KDI monitoring reports also show increased transparency in terms of public procurement, public discussions, and budget reporting, while National Audit Office reports have identified fewer violations.

Of course there are still major problems with local governments, but overall municipalities have proven to be more efficient in governance than state institutions.

The central level, meanwhile, is in crisis. The electoral and party system does not produce clear winners through which a parliamentary majority can be secured, while electoral promises are abandoned immediately after the election, as the winning party is often obliged to share responsibility with smaller parties and parties that were previously in power. 

Usually this division of power is not done on the basis of principles and electoral programs, but on personal and party benefits, often creating large democratic deficits. In 2017, in order to form a government the PAN coalition candidate for prime minister was forced to give 26 percent of governmental positions to Behgjet Pacolli’s party, AKR, which had earned just four MPs through its election results.

The current system also produces other issues. Governments never secure a strong majority in parliament, while elections never bring radical change, as parties that were in opposition prior to the elections are forced to make compromises with parties that were previously in power and responsible for recent misgovernance. Prime Ministers are weak in relation to their coalition partners and powerless to push through an agenda in the Assembly.

The model of governance imposed by the international community in 2001 with the adoption of the Constitutional Framework is designed for post-conflict societies and aims to prevent one ethnic or political/ideological group from governing alone. These systems of government always produce multi-ethnic and multi-party governments, but as such are intended only as transitional solutions.

In practice, this model of government often reduces democracy to arithmetic. In order to secure the necessary votes to create a government, the winning party is forced to enter into coalitions with parties at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum and allocate disproportionate executive positions to them compared to their seats in Assembly. It has created a situation where prime ministers are unable to implement the governing platforms on which their parties have won elections, and throughout the mandate are held hostage by smaller parties.

Another obstacle for prime ministers in implementing the governing program is sharing executive power with the President, especially in the field of foreign policy, security and justice. This was especially evident after the 2019 elections, when the new government was forced to share power with Hashim Thaçi, a president that founded one of the opposition parties and whose ‘political weight’ meant he was able to exert more power than provided by the Kosovo Constitution.

These combined issues have led to a situation in which no government has been able to fulfill its full governing mandate since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

To address these problems, a first step that should be considered is raising the electoral threshold from 5 percent to 10 percent. This would prevent the proliferation of smaller parties and mean that disagreements within existing parties would be manifested through internal factions, rather than the creation of new parties.

Reducing the total number of seats in the Assembly to no more than 100, and the guaranteed seats for minority communities to no more than 10, is another measure that should be considered, as is limiting the powers of the President to the symbolic and ceremonial level.

These measures can help make the political system work at the central level, and enable the parties or pre-election coalitions that win elections to implement their governing program. They can also create a clear assignment of accountability, increasing the power of voter pressure and making it easier to oust bad governments from power, thereby raising accountability to a level comparable with local governance.

Responsibility to govern would be transferred entirely to the party or parties that won the election, while the Assembly would become the arena where opposition parties would hold the majority accountable throughout their term.

Amendments to the Constitution will be necessary to ensure an efficient functioning of the system of government, as well as the abrogation of a number of decisions of the Constitutional Court which, being politically motivated, have already complicated the formation and functioning of institutions.

But, after 20 years, it is necessary to start the debate on a complete review of Kosovo’s governing system and start the process of amending and supplementing the Constitution. While the Ahtisaari Plan will hamper radical change, it should not make it impossible to spark an essential debate on how to overcome the ongoing institutional crises that have now plagued the country for more than a decade.

Agron Demi is a Senior Researcher at the GAP Institute in Prishtina.

The views expressed in the Opinion section are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect BIRN’s views.

05 December 2020 - 10:25

Agron Demi

05/12/2020 - 10:25

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.