During the fourth week of my internship, Kosovo was fully engrossed in the national elections. On my walk to work, I was greeted by multiple political party supporters passing out flyers and business cards for their candidate. As I passed by cafes I could catch a word or two of locals’ conversations about the political parties or a famous political candidate. It felt like all other news outside of the election was nonexistant; everyone was focused on the upcoming elections on Sunday.
Kosovo’s elections are structured differently from what I was used to in the United States. In Kosovo, the Parliament consists of 120 total seats, 20 of which are reserved for representatives of minority ethnicities within the state. Of those 20, 10 are reserved for Serbian parties and the other 10 are for the other minorities, such as the Egyptians and Roma. When a Kosovar citizen goes to the polls to vote, they do not just vote for a party, but they also vote for up to five candidates of that party out of a list of hundreds of potential options. To me, this seems like an incredibly daunting process; how could any citizen be a fully informed voter and choose just a small number of candidates from a list of hundreds? It seemed like a near impossible task!
Some political parties aligned with each other to form coalitions in order to attract more voters. PDK, the largest party in Kosovo at the time, joined with AAK and NISMA formed a coalition of former KLA commanders. LDK, the second largest party, joined with Alternative and AKR to form a competing coalition of their own. In the media, both huge coalitions were referred to as “Guns” & “Roses” respectively, based off of the PDK coalition’s ex-KLA political candidates and the LDK’s coalition’s former governmental administrator candidates. A third party called Self-Determination!, or VV, did not form any coalition and ran on its own, banking their hopes on a grassroots and populist campaign. The minority parties also ran mostly alone, with Serb List being the frontrunner for the Serbian minority, a party who touted their closeness to the politics of Belgrade as their strongest asset.
It was initially difficult to follow each day’s new political permutations. However, I was able to get a solid sense of what was occurring this week from the UNMIK’s Media Observer and by discussing the election with friends and coworkers as the week continued on. During the campaign week, I spoke with my coworkers, my landlord, and some of my Kosovar friends about their personal hopes for the national election, and I noticed two common, yet paradoxical, themes in everyone’s responses: They wanted an end to the corrupted politics of the past, and they were also resigned to the fact that the “same corrupted parties” will win again. This is not to say there was a growing sense of apathy or disenfranchisement, as everyone I spoke to were excited to go out and cast their vote, but there was a sense of hopelessness that the same people who had been running Kosovo would stay in power. It was an interesting dichotomy, and I wonder if they will have the same feeling at the end of election day.
The Tuesday Salon for this week was by far the most interesting salon I had attended yet. The topic was whether Kosovo was headed on the right path for growth, and the panelists were Greg Delawie, the US Ambassador to Kosovo, Nataliya Apostolova, the Head of the EU Office in Kosovo, and Agorn Bajrami, the Editor-In-Chief of Koha Ditore. They had a fascinating discussion both amongst themselves as well as with the members of the salon who peppered them with difficult questions about Kosovo’s future. Here, I got to see the similarities and the differences between the US and the EU policy towards Kosovo, and I was surprised by how different their approaches were. The EU took a more hands-on, intermediary approach to many of Kosovo’s issues, such as with the Dialogue with Serbia and with Kosovo’s corruption litigation. On the other hand, the US was set in their role as an advisor who did not take direct action io any particular issue, but instead offered advice and monetary support. Throughout the salon, Mr. Bajrami keep the conversation grounded, taking the high-level issues that were being discussed and showing their impact on regular citizens by telling stories about their practical application in Kosovo. I took meticulous notes on their discussion because I will help another coworker write an op-ed summarizing the salon at the end of next week.
In the days that followed the salon, the office has been buzzing with final preparations for our work as a campaign monitors. Unfortunately, I was unable to get access to be an official observer for the election. However, I would be able to join the rest of the D4D team at the call center on election day. The call center was going to be run by a number of similar Civil Society Organizations, and they would call to check up on each polling center throughout the country to monitor for fraud or other illegal activities. I was going to be in charge of any English press briefings the call center needed to release.
On Friday, our organization, along with a couple of representatives from other Civil Society Organizations, met with the US Ambassador, Head of the EU Office in Kosovo, a representative of the Central Election Commission, and one of the heads of the Kosovo Police in a joint press conference to discussion the precautions taken for the security, safety, and legitimacy of the weekend’s elections. I was flanked by members of other organizations and the press as they broadcasted the meeting. As an observer, I felt that the overall tone from the press conference was one of confidence and assurance. Each representative took turns outlining what they’ve done to preserve the integrity of the upcoming elections, and it sounded convincing. Near the end of the broadcast, a few members of the audience expressed fears and doubts over certain aspects of the election (for example, they spoke of a fear of ballot fraud like there was in the 2012 elections and they expressed concerns that some of the observers were not neutral, but would actually try to distribute party propaganda on election day). The panelists answered their concerns as ably as they could and, in my opinion, the overall tone of legitimacy weathered the storm of doubts.
Throughout the week, I received an in-depth understanding of some of the groundwork that needs to be created in order to successfully hold a free and fair election. I also saw firsthand the impact that international, national, and civil society organizations are having on making an election successful. I am learning a lot speaking with/helping my coworkers in this regard and seeing firsthand the steps necessary of turning an idea, like organizing a high-level press conference or a salon, into a reality.