Photo: Atdhe Mulla

Rivals go head to head with incumbent Prishtina mayor

Prishtina mayoral candidates offer their plans for Kosovo’s capital on #DebatPernime.

Less than a month before Kosovars hit the polls to vote for their local governments on October 22, seven of eight candidates vying for the capital’s seat went head to head in a debate moderated by Jeta Xharra on RTV 21.

The debate included incumbent mayor Shpend Ahmeti from Vetevendosje, who survived a volley of attacks from fellow contenders Arban Abrashi from the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, Arber Vllahiu from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, and Lirak Celaj from the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK. Criticism was not lacking from Avni Cakmaku from the party Fjala (The Word) and Selim Pacolli from the Alliance New Kosovo, AKR, either. Meanwhile, Alternativa candidate Rifat Deri, the race’s underdog, spent his time unveiling his program for the city.

Former Minister of Social Welfare and Labor and current MP Arban Abrashi kicked off the debate, promising an employment fund for youth, lowering property taxes, and legalizing illegally constructed apartments. Meanwhile, Arber Vllahiu, the current spokesperson for Haradinaj government, took the floor and abrasively declared that his muddy shoes were proof of Ahmeti’s failure.

“We have so many emergencies in Prishtina,” Vllahiu maintained, listing water supply, rural development, and construction of new schools as some of his priorities. Chiming in, Fjala’s Cakmaku promised to make Prishtina “a leader in agriculture.”

Former Deputy Justice Minister Lirak Celaj promised to solve the congested traffic and highlighted security as an issue.

“There are some abandoned buildings in Dardania that are used by addicts. I cannot believe that they haven’t been torn down yet,” he said.

Alternativa’s Deri said that he would focus on education and infrastructure.

“We will build infrastructure and protect the environment as a precondition for sustainable development,” he said, adding that a reorganization of the urbanism department was necessary.

AKR’s Pacolli revealed an original plan for relocating the administration and the university campus to the suburbs, as a way to free the city from congestion.

Current mayor Ahmeti focused less on revealing his 100 promises and took more time to remind his opponents of his achievements.

“Prishtina has 24/7 water supply, new buses, has double the amount of kindergartens, and we have health care centers that offer 1.2 million services a year,” he said. “I apologize to Arber [Vllahiu], cuz the only service we don’t offer is cleaning for the government’s shoes.”

A sore point in the debate was the issue of traffic and parking of vehicles, which most often usurp sidewalks leaving pedestrians without free space. Celaj accused Ahmeti of sabotaging the public enterprise Parkingu from ever taking off, while Ahmeti accused him in return of voting against it.

Meanwhile, Cakmaku suggested to widen the streets, saying that if he came to power, “all existing urban plans would be thrown in the trash bin.” Other candidates offered changing the zoning of the city, offering parkings outside the center, and even turning streets into one-way roads.

Ahmeti said that the parking issue would be solved once the already-approved mobility plan would be implemented.

“Whoever wins the race will implement it,” he said.

Meanwhile, a tangential debate about bollards was started by Vllahiu, who said that they should all be removed, since according to him they did not exist in cities like London. Deri, meanwhile, maintained that since cities like London and Paris have them (he even showed his rival a picture on his cell), Prishtina should have them but make a special design.

“We started with the bollards as a temporary measure, but now every neighborhood wants them,”  shrugged Ahmeti.

The candidate speeches were accompanied with a lot of cheers and boos from the rowdy audience, especially for Ahmeti, who was constantly either interrupted by his fellow panelists or the audience.

Another prevalent issue candidates spent time on was the problem of air pollution, which last winter was breaking global records. Kosovo’s new government has promised to stop coal usage for heating, but most candidates were reluctant to affirm the promise.

Even Celaj, whose party is in the current government, admitted that stopping coal before offering alternative heating would be impossible.

Ahmeti explained that the Termokos project, which provides central heating to most of the city’s residents, was ending and that unfortunately there was not enough energy to connect the entire city.

Pacolli suggested the construction of a new plant that would run on biowaste and would supply energy and heating to Prishtina’s suburban areas that have not been plugged into the network.

After zigzagging from one issue to the next, and harsh exchanges of accusations about ineptitude and blockages, the debate turned to illegal constructions and how the city had failed to provide permits to those who had applied to legalize their properties.

Abrashi offered to lower the tariff to one euro per square meter, while Ahmeti jabbed that this is not even regulated by the municipality, and that the legalization failed on a central level because people did not apply for permits.

Meanwhile, Pacolli offered an entirely novel idea: that of building a new city beyond the Palace of Justice towards the Badoc lake.

“This way Prishtina would have the biggest park in europe – Germia – at its center,” he said.

29/09/2017 - 10:15

29 September 2017 - 10:15

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.