Commentary

Kosovo’s Contradictory Elections

By Gary Dempsey
December 7, 2001
After two and a half years of NATO occupation, billions of dollars in foreign aid, and the expulsion of 200,000 Serbs, Gypsies, and other non-Albanians, Kosovo has held its first provincial elections. According to Daan Everts, head of the Kosovo mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the elections were a “huge success” and “an important step towards democracy.” But were they, really?

The Washington Post seems to think so. It claims that “the outcome was a clear victory for political moderates.” The Los Angeles Times agrees, calling the results “Kosovo’s happy surprise.” The facts, however, suggest things are not so clear-cut.

For starters, compare the results of these elections with those of Kosovo’s municipal elections held last year. The relatively moderate Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, received 58 percent of the vote during those earlier elections, but only 46 percent during these.

In contrast, the two political parties spawned by the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army — the Alliance for the Future and the Democratic Party of Kosovo — and two new extreme nationalist parties — the Popular Movement of Kosovo and the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo — managed to capture 36 percent of the vote during the recent elections, compared with 35 percent during last year’s elections. That’s a modest increase of one percentage point.

But this figure is actually four times higher if one corrects for the fact that Serbs boycotted last year’s elections. Looking exclusively at ethnic Albanian voting patterns for both elections, hard-line parties have actually increased their popularity among ethnic Albanian voters by four percentage points, while the LDK has fallen by eight.

What’s more, since the LDK did not acquire an outright majority of the vote during the recent elections, it will have to form a coalition government with one of the political offshoots of the Kosovo Liberation Army, either the Alliance for the Future or the Democratic Party of Kosovo. But the Alliance for the Future says it will only join an LDK coalition if the Democratic Party of Kosovo is also included. Conversely, the Democratic Party of Kosovo says it is only prepared to join an LDK coalition if it includes the Alliance for the Future.

Meanwhile, the extreme Popular Movement of Kosovo and the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo, both of which openly campaigned for Kosovo to become part of the country of Albania, each gained a seat in the newly created provincial assembly. It is worth noting that the president and vice-president of the Popular Movement of Kosovo, Emrush Xhemajili and Gafurr Elshani, and the president of the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo, Sabit Gashi, were singled-out last June in a harshly worded Executive Order issued by President George W. Bush. The three men are barred from entering the United States and American citizens are prohibited from having any financial or business dealings with them because of their role in fomenting an armed insurgency in Macedonia, Kosovo’s neighbor to the south. According to the wording of Bush’s order, actions of the three “threaten U.S. and international efforts to promote regional peace and stability and pose a potential danger to U.S. military forces and other Americans supporting peacekeeping efforts.”

What is also notable about the elections is that many people who had voted last year chose not to participate this time around. Indeed, voter turnout among ethnic Albanians dropped from approximately 80 percent during last year’s elections to 65 percent during these.

According to a post-election report issued by the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, the growing movement of ethnic Albanians toward apathy on one hand, and hard-line parties on the other, is a response to the same underlying reality: Elections in Kosovo are a sham, and have more to do with foreign bureaucrats perpetuating their role than with the democratic rights of the people who live there. Indeed, the new `framework constitution’ under which the elections were held is the first modern political constitution to explicitly rule out democracy. In fact, the preamble states that the “will of the people” is to be but one of many “relevant factors” to be taken into account by the international policymakers who actually have the final word on all important policy decisions in Kosovo — including decisions about Kosovo’s final political status.

The longer foreign bureaucrats insist that laws, legislation, and international standing are theirs to grant (or not), rather than the majority population in Kosovo’s to establish, the more frustrated and powerless everyday ethnic Albanians will feel. As the recent elections demonstrate, this is detrimental to both political moderation and civil society: two of the things foreign bureaucrats are supposed to be fostering so that U.S. and NATO troops can eventually leave.

Gary Dempsey is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.