An essay on a new voter’s struggle to tick the right boxes on the ballot.
After years of retroactively absorbing information about the general state of politics in Kosovo, having the chance to vote for the first time feels like a somewhat ambivalent transition. No doubt, being a firm believer in the democratic process, the vote continues to be of high significance, although many like to argue otherwise: the previous general elections held in 2010 and 2014 saw a rather low turnout, with less than half of the electorate bothering to hit the polling places to have a say in their government.
This year, thousands of new voters born during and after the Kosovo war will be able to cast their votes for the first time, and it does not take much to see the blatant pandering that happens across the spectrum of contenders. A large portion of the fresh electorate might not be mindful of the whole gamut of background and history that every candidate bears, thus their decisions might rest on a shaky basis. But, how can one feel content with the vote that they cast?
Most people become acquainted with their potential representatives on TV or the internet. More often than not, they appear on flashy and grandiose political ads that ultimately offer only sweet talk and a faux sense of hope. The most serious problem that new voters have to deal with is that most candidates use only but their names as a vehicle to ensure votes. That might work with older voters who already know the candidates, but not with younger ones who are only subject to the cacophony of charged advertisements and habitual sword fights between people who have not altered their vote in years.
Instead of the incessant text messages from MP candidates that people would receive during previous elections, this time around money is spent on sponsored Facebook posts. Scrolling down one’s feed is reminiscent of switching channels: one party goon fades into the face of another. The show was definitely stolen by the flawed but hilarious ‘selfie app’ that LDK’s PM candidate released, where you can add a cutout of Avdullah Hoti and pretend that he is patiently waiting for you to find good lighting before you snap a picture. Everywhere you will find shots of cross-armed candidates with picture perfect smiles, videos showcasing their incentives for change in city tours and book fairs, and somewhat melodramatic Facebook statuses about how ‘they are the one.’ As in previous elections, most of these faces will pass from sight without much ado when the commotion is over.
Growing up, I happened to know more about the the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, as I was raised in an area where most people openly support them. I would hear rationalizations like “they have members from our home villages,” “they will have us in mind,” and “they carry the legacy of President Rugova,” without much elaboration on the significance of those statements. Being exposed to a deep-rooted stronghold mentality has not left a lot of space for healthy political interest, and conversations about opposing parties were usually hollow yet had this sort of derisive aura about them. There were people who switched support for parties, especially when when Vetevendosje joined the scene, but it felt more like a bandwagon activity based on eagerness rather than rationale.
Barely any candidate focuses their campaign on specific problems and issues that they would tackle if elected. Most of what I have stumbled upon throughout my exposure are ‘general principles,’ stances on national processes that have a low impact on everyday life and the increasingly bland buzzword of visa liberalization that we have been duped to believe is going to happen in the near future since 2010. When asked about particular subjects, the answers sometimes seem shallow and ad hoc. The constant switcheroo in coalitions and party affiliations has become so commonplace that one’s support for a political subject might not be long lasting.
A prominent platform where the electorate gets to know their candidates are televised debates and discussions. Unsurprisingly, there are many hurdles to be found here too. Firstly, many candidates downright refuse to join debates against opposing candidates and thus offer no program information to the potential voter. Others enthusiastically go to debates, yet all they do is end up exchanging vitriol and scorn to the point where hurling the TV from the window seems like a justifiable action.
— Prishtina Insight (@PrishtInsight) June 5, 2017
Although parties like Vetevendosje have a rather clear-cut governing plan, if you happen to disagree with them it may be difficult to juxtapose multiple programs, as they are often hard to access: for instance, the website of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, only hosts a vignette of a few joyful flags rippling in the skies, and, apart from the list of MP candidates, the latest uploaded file on the online portal of the LDK is a yearly financial report from 2016. Furthermore the political program of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK, on their website is from 2010, a full seven years ago.
The jumbled mixture of coalitions inspires disbelief that all candidates running under the same alliance are also on the same page. For example, NISMA, AAK and LDK, which forged a coalition during the constitutional stalemate after the 2014 general elections – supported but not signed by Vetevendosje – have since parted ways and are running separately. AAK together with NISMA, a party which broke off from PDK in 2014, have joined Kadri Veseli’s PDK, LDK has teamed up with Behgjet Pacolli’s AKR and the newly formed Alternativa, while Vetevendosje remains as the lone wolf. Worth noting, the Conservative Party of Kosovo and the Liberal Party of Kosovo (both minor parties) are rallying behind the same coalition led by PDK (another reminder to us first-time voters that these elections are not really about ideology). It might be safe to assume that this is a source of confusion for people who have just been granted a say and, for better or for worse, the tides seem like they will continue shifting.
What the new generation of voters needs to get straight is that politicians are not two dimensional images that sometimes show up on the evening news broadcasts. They aim to represent the people from within and without, meaning that their accountability needs to remain under constant trial. Although it may be demanding to pinpoint what parties and candidates will eventually do if they obtain power, voters need to be just as active as the candidates during the campaign by asking questions and discovering their stances on issues that are essential to them. Also, do keep your nonsense detector well-calibrated.