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Can The New Government Change Kosovo's Fortunes?

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Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani -- new Kosovo government
Albin Kurti and Vjosa Osmani -- new Kosovo government
(Image by YouTube, Channel: KlanKosova)
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There is a new political day dawning in Kosovo -- the newest, but a troubled country in Europe. The last 20 years were marred by bad governance, high unemployment, and pervasive corruption in and outside the government. Those who once bravely fought for the country's freedom failed to secure a functioning democracy able to responsibly address the public's aspirations. In his first trip to Kosovo after the end of the 1999 war between Kosovo and Serbia, US President Bill Clinton told the Kosovo Albanian crowd greeting him, "We won the war. But listen: Only you can win the peace. The time for fighting is passed."

Sadly though, those who fought gallantly with the support of NATO and won the war against Serbia have lost their way. Instead of focusing on what's best for the country, they concentrated on what serves them best. They ended up losing public confidence and trust, which explains their astounding defeat on October 6.

The two leading winners are the leftist-nationalist Vetevendosje party led by Albin Kurti, which garnered 25.6 percent of the vote, followed by the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) led by Isa Mustafa, albeit Vjosa Osmani led the campaign and won, with 24.9 percent. The biggest loser is the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which has been in power since 2007, currently led by Kadri Veseli. The party leaders were busy enriching themselves while ignoring the needs of their fellow citizens.

The public dreamed of being free, secure, and prosperous following a horrifying war that exacted so much pain, suffering, loss of life, and widespread destruction. The results of the recent parliamentary election clearly demonstrated that people are fed up and want change -- and they want it now.

Notwithstanding their lack of experience in governing, the new leaders, Mr. Kurti and Ms. Osmani, are young, visionary, and understand the plight and the needs of their people. Even though they may not have, as of now, a fully articulated socio-political and economic development plan, they have the potential to serve their country's interests best. They are not tainted with corruption and are committed to change the fortunes of their country, which faces multiple and profound domestic and foreign problems.

The reactions to the drastically changing political landscape run the gamut from those like Astrit Gashi, a political analyst who is hopeful that in spite of prevailing skepticism, the new government will usher in important change. He stated that "I expect that new political scene will banish the instilled culture of impunity for politicians that have violated the law. I also expect the law to treat all citizens equally."

Others like Florian Qehaja, the Executive Director of Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS), expects some but certainly not major changes. "There is a general societal fatigue", he said, "which has been accumulated due to corrupted political elite as well as increased populism in the West...I expect some minimal changes from these elections."

And there are individuals including Rron Gjinovci, a political analyst who is rather doubtful, stating that "Their discourse (Kurti and Osmani) is totally unclear, with lack of precision and with populist connotation all over. This convinces me that the change will be symbolic and formal..."

Regardless of the lack of experience of the newly elected leaders and the insurmountable problems that face the nation, a change in direction is critical before the country becomes a failed state. But judging them based on their personality, experiences, and commitment to affect a positive change, they certainly deserve the public's support along with all public institutions who have serious stakes in their success, but more important the future well-being of the country.

To that end, as soon as they form a new government, Kurti and Osmani should embark on a practical national plan that can be implemented during their first term in office. They must keep in mind though, that they will face a) resistance from the bureaucrats who have vested interests in the current corrupt system, b) difficulties emanating from the lack of human and financial resources, and c) public cynicism and a serious lack of trust in government officials.

The two leading parties may not concur on everything, but they agree on much of what's ailing the country, which they must address in a systematic way, stay the course, demonstrate accountability and transparency, and remain true to the promises and commitments they make to the public.

First, they should invite the ethnic minorities along with the Serbian parliamentarians, who each are granted 10 seats in the parliament, to join the government. This in and of itself will demonstrate the new leadership's intent to form a coalition government that represents the people regardless of their ethnicity. Even though the Serbians may refuse to join the government, it is important for Mr. Kurti and Ms. Osmani to demonstrate that Kosovar Serbs are an integral part of the population, and they have a place in the government.

Second, they must make economic development a top priority, which is central to creating jobs and opportunities for growth. Given that financial resources are scarce, however, the government should make it conducive for foreign investors to invest in the private sector. Moreover, other than loans given by the IMF and the World Bank designated for special projects, the US and EU would certainly be open to provide further financial aid provided that the money is spent on projects with transparency and competency. The funds, however, should be given incrementally and correspond to the progress being made.

Third, they should seek a solution to the conflict with Serbia that is not contingent on any other domestic issues or concerns. Both the US and the EU want an end to the conflict, and given the imperative of their economic and political support, the new government cannot dismiss what they believe to be in the best interest of Kosovo. As important for the new government is to make a good-will gesture toward Serbia by immediately lifting the 100% tariff imposed on imports of Serbian goods. The government should make it clear that it is ready to enter negotiations in good faith to resolve the conflict, which neither can escape indefinitely.

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Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. His dedication to writing about, analyzing, and (more...)

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