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article imageKosovo heads to snap poll after MPs dissolve parliament

By Ismet HAJDARI (AFP)     Aug 21, 2019 in World

Kosovo MPs voted on Thursday to dissolve parliament and trigger early elections, a move that could shake up the political scene at a time when negotiations with former foe Serbia are deadlocked.

The vote comes after outgoing premier Ramush Haradinaj, a former commander of ethnic Albanian rebels who battled Serbia in the late 1990s, stepped down in July to face a summons from a special court in The Hague that is investigating crimes from that era.

Since his resignation, parties have agitated for a snap poll, with some already involved in unofficial campaigning and talking about possible alliances.

After 89 lawmakers in the 120-member assembly voted in favour of the motion, Haradinaj hailed it as proof of Kosovo's "political maturity" and "stable democracy".

He also stressed that the dialogue with Serbia "is one of the important topics".

"I think we should discuss this topic after the elections," he told reporters.

Kosovo's former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj
stepped down in July after he was summoned to a...
Kosovo's former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj stepped down in July after he was summoned to a special court in the Hague

President Hashim Thaci, who is now required to call an election within 45 days, said in a statement he would announce a poll date "soon".

Kosovo has for months been locked in an impasse with Serbia, which still rejects the former province's independence declaration in 2008.

While most of the Western world recognises Kosovo, Belgrade and its allies China and Russia do not, effectively shutting it out of the United Nations.

New elections will put the stalled EU-led talks on hold for longer, with a planned summit in September likely to be postponed.

After Kosovo's last parliamentary election in 2017, it took several months of wrangling to form a government.

A new government could, however, offer an opening if it were to revoke the 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods that Haradinaj put in place last November.

That move enraged Belgrade and brought the talks to a grinding halt.

Haradinaj refused to bend to heavy pressure from the EU and US to lift the trade barrier, which Serbia says is a requisite for returning to the table.

Writing on Twitter, US ambassador Philip Kosnett welcomed the "important step" towards forming a new government and encouraged a "campaign in which candidates offer fresh ideas on talks with Serbia, rule of law, and economic development".

- New alliances -

The election will be Kosovo's fourth since its independence and could redraw the power lines in a system where no party appears able to win an absolute majority.

Parliament was dominated by the so-called "war wing" -- a coalition of parties led by former war-time leaders like Haradinaj and Thaci.

There has been talk of a challenge from a possible alliance between two opposition parties, the centre-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and left-wing nationalist Vetevendosje.

Eighty-nine Kosovo MPS in the 120-member assembly voted in favour of the motion to hold a snap elect...
Eighty-nine Kosovo MPS in the 120-member assembly voted in favour of the motion to hold a snap election

Though they have little in common ideologically, their pairing could push Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) into the opposition for the first time in over a decade, said political analyst Ardian Collaku.

That "would be healthy for democracy in the country," he told AFP.

Yet it is also too early to rule out a comeback for Haradinaj.

The 51-year-old has said he would return to politics if he is not indicted by the court in The Hague, which operates under Kosovo law but also has international judges.

It would not be the first time -- he was previously tried and acquitted twice for war crimes by a different UN tribunal, before going on to become prime minister for a second term in 2017.

Now he faces a court created in 2015 to investigate crimes allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanian political opponents during and after the 1998-99 war.

The war claimed more than 13,000 lives, the vast majority ethnic Albanians.

Numerous Serb leaders have been convicted of committing crimes against humanity during the conflict, which was the final war in Yugoslavia's bloody collapse.


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