Just when Kosovo appeared to be heading for a degree of stability and normalcy, feuding politicians and fresh corruption scandals have plunged the fledgling Balkan nation into its worst political crisis to date.
A quirk in the young nation’s constitution has left Kosovo in a seemingly unfixable political deadlock that could yet force fresh elections only five months after the last vote.
The constitution decrees that the party with the most seats gets to appoint parliament’s speaker and try to form a government.
That means the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) led by former guerrilla Hashim Thaci, which has been in charge of the country since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
But a coalition of opposition parties have banded together to repeatedly block the PDK’s choice for speaker and attempt to form their own government.
It appears there is no way out of the stalemate since the constitution does not set any deadline for electing a speaker nor any limit on how many times the issue can be put to a vote.
The PDK might be the biggest party — still riding the popularity its leaders earned during their insurgency against Serbian forces in the late 1990s — but with only 37 deputies in the 120-seat parliament it has little hope of governing alone.
If the stalemate continues, says Pristina-based analyst Belul Beqaj, it could deal an “irreparable blow” to Kosovo’s international standing.
– EU corruption –
Beqaj fears Kosovo will once again be forced to fall back on support from US and European diplomats, who have all but micro-managed Kosovo’s politics since the war.
But the credibility of foreign emissaries to Kosovo was called into serious doubt this week by accusations that officials from the EU’s law mission took payoffs from organised criminals.
A British prosecutor with the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), Maria Bamieh, accused two of her colleagues of taking bribes to drop three criminal cases, including one for murder, in 2012 and 2013.
Local media reported that chief prosecutor Jaroslava Novotna, a Czech national, and former EU chief judge Francesco Florit of Italy were offered 350,000 euros ($440,000) each.
EULEX bosses have promised a “thorough probe” but their first step was to suspend Bamieh on suspicion of leaking confidential documents.
– Impact on Serbia ties –
The chaos could undermine hopes of normalising Kosovo’s relationship with Serbia, which has never accepted the decision of its former province, made up mostly of ethnic Albanians, to break away.
Violence between Serbs and Albanians at a recent Euro 2016 football qualifier in Belgrade served as a reminder of the continued ethnic tensions in the region. A planned visit by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to Serbia, the first such visit in 68 years, had to be postponed in the aftermath.
Meanwhile in Kosovo, the nationalistic Self-Determination party has taken a prominent role in the opposition coalition, demanding that it leads negotiations with Serbia as the price of its support.
That threatens the already tricky process of ironing out details from a landmark 2013 deal between the two countries, in which Serbia agreed to let Kosovo govern itself in exchange for continued influence over the Serb community.
Analyst Haki Abazi says much of the blame for the crisis lies with the brinkmanship politics used by Thaci’s administration.
Economists fear the deadlock will stop next year’s budget being agreed, jeopardising public sector wages.
Kosovo’s average salary amounts to just 350 euros ($440) per month and unemployment is at 35 percent. Almost half of its mostly-Albanian population of 1.7 million lives in poverty.
Reforms cannot wait for another round of politicking, said Beqaj.