Kosovo opposition leaders eye coalition after election shake-up

Albin Kurti rejoices but Vjosa Osmani retains dream of being nation's first female PM

Vjosa Osmani, election candidate for prime minister from the opposition party Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) with her daughter during an electoral rally in Pristina. Photograph:  Armend Nimani/AFP via Getty

Vjosa Osmani, election candidate for prime minister from the opposition party Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) with her daughter during an electoral rally in Pristina. Photograph: Armend Nimani/AFP via Getty

 

Two of Kosovo’s opposition leaders have said they are ready to discuss forming a coalition government after finishing neck-and-neck in a snap parliamentary election and defeating parties led by war veterans.

With 98 per cent of votes counted from Sunday’s election, the leftist Vetevendosje (Self-determination) party had 25.6 per cent and the centre-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was on 24.9 per cent on Monday evening.

With only about 5,500 votes separating the pair, ballots cast abroad may decide which party secures victory and the first chance to form a new government with its leader at the helm as prime minister.

“Since last night there is hope. Because yesterday there was courage,” Vetevendosje’s leader Albin Kurti wrote on Facebook on Monday.

“You voted in huge numbers, giving the outgoing opposition a convincing victory. Change happened. And not only that. The people have decided that this change will be led by Vetevendosje,” he added.

“Now, we have to work. But again with the citizens . . .always together. The hard work that awaits us only strengthens my will.”

Having vowed to end graft and cronyism, Mr Kurti hailed the vote as Kosovo’s “third liberation” after its 1998-9 war with Serbia to escape Belgrade’s rule and its 2008 independence declaration following a period of UN administration.

“I will offer them a hand of co-operation as prime minister,” he said of the LDK, whose leader Vjosa Osmani refused to admit defeat until all ballots were counted.

Ms Osmani, a US-educated lawyer bidding to become Kosovo’s first female premier, said she thought the LDK and Vetevendosje would “sit down and talk about a coalition” after an election that shook up the country’s political scene.

President Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which is set to be out of government for the first time in 12 years, was lying third on 21.1 per cent, ahead of the coalition led by outgoing prime minister Ramush Haradinaj on 11.5 per cent.

Mr Thaci, Mr Haradinaj and PDK leader Kadri Veseli were commanders of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian rebel forces during the 1998-9 conflict with Serbia. This election was triggered by Mr Haradinaj’s decision in July to resign before answering questions about his wartime conduct from prosecutors at a tribunal in The Hague.

Despite lying respectively to the left and right of the political centre, Vetevendosje and the LDK both want to fight corruption and slash bureaucracy in a bid to boost the economy, attract investment and reduce unemployment and emigration.

The West will hope Kosovo’s new government can agree a deal with Serbia to normalise their relations and open up both countries’ path to EU membership.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic hailed the performance of his allies in Kosovo, the Serb List party, which took all 10 seats reserved for the country’s ethnic Serb minority.