Publicado: 15/02/2021

Kosovo anti-establishment party scores landslide victory

Kosovo anti-establishment party scores landslide victory

Pristina (AFP) -

Kosovo's left-wing reformists secured a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, results showed Monday, handing them a strong mandate for change from voters fed up with the political establishment.

The opposition Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party took home around 48 percent of the vote in Sunday's snap poll, according to the election commission.

The triumph nearly doubled the party's last electoral showing in 2019, while Kosovo's two traditional parties suffered historic lows.

'This great victory is an opportunity to start the changes we want,' Vetevendosje's firebrand leader Albin Kurti, long a thorn in the establishment's side, said in a victory speech in the capital Pristina as snow fell late Sunday.

'The election was indeed a referendum on justice and employment and against corruption and state capture,' the 45-year-old added, while warning of 'many obstacles' ahead.

The early elections came after a tumultuous year in which the coronavirus pandemic deepened social and economic crises in the former Serbian province, which declared independence 13 years ago.

Already one of Europe's poorest economies, Kosovo is now struggling through a pandemic-triggered downturn, with vaccinations yet to start.

For Vetevendosje's supporters, the election results sparked hopes for better days ahead.

Devoted fans braved below-freezing temperatures late Sunday to gather in Pristina's main square, cheering, honking car horns and setting off fireworks.

But others cautioned that unravelling the problems of past governments would not come quickly or easily.

'We have a lot of work ahead, so for me it's no time for celebration,' said Labinot Bajrami, a 39-year-old social worker. 'I think we have to focus and work.'

- Tear gas in parliament -

Once known for provocative stunts such as unleashing tear gas in parliament, Vetevendosje began as a street movement in the 2000s protesting against local elites and international influence in Kosovo, which was a UN protectorate after the war.

It entered electoral politics in 2011 and has tamped down its more radical antics in recent years.

The party ran on an anti-corruption platform, accusing past leaders of squandering Kosovo's first years of independence through graft and mismanagement.

For most of the past decade, Kosovo has been run by the former commanders who led the late 1990s rebellion against Serb forces.

If they were once feted as independence heroes, the political elite have now become the face of the social and economic ills plaguing the population of 1.8 million, where average salaries are around 500 euros (around $600) a month and youth unemployment tops 50 percent.

Sunday's election saw the outgoing centrist Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) -- a party of former rebels -- drop down to 13 and 17 percent respectively.

The former rebels were also weakened this year by the absence of top leaders, including ex-president Hashim Thaci, who were detained in November by a court in The Hague on war crimes charges dating back to the 1998-99 rebellion against Serbia.

Both camps conceded defeat Sunday, with the LDK's outgoing Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti pledging to be a 'constructive opposition' in parliament.

- New generation -

Vetevendosje now has a clear path to a ruling majority if it teams up with minority parties, who are reserved 20 seats in the 120-member assembly, half for the Serb community.

While the party also finished first in the last election in 2019, with only a quarter of the vote it lasted some 50 days in power before its shaky coalition with the LDK crumbled.

The stronger showing this time has been attributed in part to Kurti's new alliance with acting President Vjosa Osmani.

The 38-year-old, an inspiration for many women in Kosovo's patriarchal society, recently left the LDK to join Kurti on the campaign trail.

'I think it is about time that Kosovo is led by not only a new generation of politicians in terms of age, but especially in terms of mindset,' Osmani told AFP ahead of the vote.

While Kurti himself did not run as an MP -- he is banned because of a 2018 court conviction for unleashing tear gas in parliament -- his party can still appoint him as prime minister.

Known for a hardline stance on relations with Serbia, he would face heavy pressure from the West to reboot talks with the northern neighbour, which still denies Kosovo's statehood.

The lingering dispute is a source of major tension in the region more than 20 years after the war, and an obstacle for either side in its dreams of joining the European Union.

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