The government’s downfall leaves Kosovo politics in turmoil

In the midst of a public health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kosovo enters into another political crisis, opening a number of questions about the formation of the next government and the future of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

Even before Wednesday’s vote, widespread criticism of the decision to table a motion of no confidence against the Kosovo Government had been voiced, not least because the country is currently tackling a coronavirus outbreak, with more than 70 confirmed cases so far. 

Now, after the Kosovo Assembly voted to pass the motion of no confidence against the government, what happens next is determined by several factors, many of which are complicated by the ongoing pandemic. 

In the immediate future, the government will continue to operate in a caretaker role, with Albin Kurti as acting prime minister, while LDK have confirmed their ministers will not be withdrawn from the cabinet. 

However, the formation of the next government is now fraught with complications.

The first big question to be answered is whether the Kosovo President will allow the parliamentary groups elected to the Assembly in October 2019 to form a new government or decide to dissolve parliament and call for early elections. 

The latter option would miror previous practice established after successful no confidence votes in 2010 and 2017. However, a clear obstacle to this is the coronavirus pandemic. 

Elections have already been postponed in neighbouring Serbia and North Macedonia, and the idea of scheduling a snap election – which would be required to be held within 45 days of parliament’s dissolution – seems an unlikely prospect in the current circumstances.

However, if the president decides against dissolving the Assembly, he will have to repeat his request to Vetevendosje – as the party that received the most votes at the October 2019 elections – to provide the name of a candidate for prime minister. 

Vetevendosje made it clear after the 2019 election that the only party it would seek to enter into a coalition with is LDK. With that coalition now in tatters, it is now hard to envision any other constellation of parties that can form a government with Vetevendosje as the lead partner.

Crucially, Vetevendosje will also have full discretion to decide when it responds to Thaci’s request to nominate a prime minister, as the Kosovo Constitution does not set any time limit on this decision. 

This gives the party the opportunity to continue on in a caretaker role indefinitely if it does not provide a candidate. However, other parties will most likely challenge any stalling tactics in the Constitutional Court, who would be able to resolve the issues caused by the absence of a deadline.

If Vetevendosje does eventually provide a candidate and it is rejected by the Assembly, the president has the discretion to nominate another political subject to nominate a candidate, which is likely to be LDK, as the second placed party in October’s elections.

However, the arithmetic for LDK to form a government is also difficult, particularly without an agreement with the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, the possibility of which many LDK MPs spoke out against during Wednesday’s session.

LDK leader Isa Mustafa told TV channel T7 on Wednesday night that the party would not make a coalition with PDK, but would look instead to AAK, Nisma, AKR and Kosovo’s ethnic minority representatives, even suggesting another coalition with Vetevendosje was possible.

Either party presenting a candidate would be required to have the candidate voted in by the Assembly, another step made more complicated by the coronavirus outbreak.

Before Wednesday’s extraordinary session, the Assembly Presidency sought advice from the National Institute of Public Health on whether it was possible to convene the parliament, and a number of measures were taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With the epidemic spreading in Kosovo, convening the Assembly may only become harder in the days and weeks to come.

There is also the potential for the Assembly’s work to be blocked by the resignation of the Speaker of the Assembly, Vjosa Osmani, an outspoken critic of the motion of no confidence. 

The Speaker has the sole authority to convene all Assembly Presidency and plenary session meetings and if the Speaker’s position becomes vacant, the Assembly will have to elect a new Speaker that should be nominated by Vetevendosje.

Hypothetically Vetevendosje could halt the work of the Assembly indefinitely by choosing not to nominate another MP as its candidate for the Speaker of the Assembly. This will be an unprecedented move with far-reaching consequences, as the Assembly of Kosovo has no prior experience in similar situations to draw its practice from concerning how it should proceed.

It seems likely that LDK initiated the motion of no confidence with prior consideration about its future steps, and the best case scenario for the party, and the most realistic one, would be an attempt to form a government with support from other parties, excluding Vetevendosje. 

Vetevendosje, meanwhile, will most likely be seeking for the Assembly of Kosovo to be dissolved and for elections to be called. 

But while Vetevendosje gears its political strategy towards holding early parliamentary elections as soon as conditions permit, other parties will likely seek to avoid elections at all cost in the near future, especially considering the public outcry over the dismissal of the government. 

The other volatile element in the mix is the prospect of a final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia signed in Washington DC. 

The formal obstacle to restarting the dialogue between the countries was the import tariff on Serbian goods imposed by the previous government, which became a wedge dividing the coalition partners of the previous government. 

During Kurti’s time in office, Special Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Richard Grenell openly chided the prime minister for failing to unconditionally and entirely remove the tariffs. Grenell also objected to the introduction of the policy of replacing the tariffs with reciprocity towards Serbia – an electoral promise and part of the governmental programme agreed between Vetevendosje and LDK. 

In filing the motion, LDK argued that Prime Minister Albin Kurti had jeopardised Kosovo’s relationship with the US. For his part, Kurti described the motion as nothing more than an attempt to remove him from office, paving the way for an agreement with Serbia that he said he was convinced was already prepared.

Kurti eventually put in place plans to remove the tariff on raw materials entering Kosovo from Serbia on March 20, with the tariff scheduled to be lifted entirely on April 1. With the tariffs removed, conditions to resume the dialogue between the countries will soon be created, but that opens up the question of who will represent Kosovo.

The Kurti Government worked hard to ensure that they were seen as the only legitimate representatives of Kosovo, as opposed to President Hashim Thaci, but with the government dismissed, those questions will be reopened.

Wednesday was another dramatic day in Kosovo politics. The government’s dismissal means its future is likely to be characterised by further turmoil and polarisation until there is clarity on the future of establishing the next government, as well as the conclusion of a final agreement with Serbia.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

Blerim Vela is a Doctoral Researcher in the Department of Politics at the University of Sussex.

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