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Faking democracy in Kosovo

The provincial elections in Kosovo on 17 November were hailed as a 'step forward to democracy'. David Chandler, who observed the elections for the Council of Europe, wonders why.

David Chandler

Topics Politics

‘This was an extraordinary election’, said ambassador Daan Everts, after overseeing Kosovo’s provincial elections on 17 November 2001 on behalf of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (1). He’s right, the election was extraordinary – but for quite different reasons than those celebrated by Everts and the OSCE.

For a start, the elections were held in a legal vacuum. Kosovo is not an independent state, nor is it under the government of Serbia or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The question of Kosovo’s statehood has been postponed for the indefinite future, while the United Nations assumes responsibility for governing the province through its UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

The new post-election arrangements are outlined in a document titled ‘A Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self-Government in Kosovo’ (2) – which makes clear that it is not a constitution but a framework for a constitution, and not about self-government but about provisional self-government. Kosovo’s ill-defined legal and political status says much about the Western powers’ diminished respect for state sovereignty, highlighting the crumbling formal framework of international legal and political equality.

Kosovo is an extraordinary political experiment, because the system of ‘dual power’ – with an international governing administration alongside a subordinate, domestically elected administration – has for the first time been officially institutionalised. The new framework is the first modern political constitution that explicitly rules out democracy, with the preamble stating that the ‘will of the people’ will be relegated to just one of many ‘relevant factors’ to be taken into account by the international policymakers (3).

But the really extraordinary executive and legislative powers of the UN special representative in Kosovo – former Danish foreign minister Hans Haekkerup – remain unaffected by the new framework. Chapter 8 lists Haekkerup’s powers and responsibilities, including the final say over finance, the budget and monetary policy, customs, the judiciary, law enforcement, policing, external relations, public property, communications and transport, housing, municipal administration, and the appointment of regulatory boards and commissions.

And, of course, the power to dissolve the elected assembly if Kosovo’s elected representatives do not show sufficient ‘maturity’ to agree with his edicts (4).

The election’s final results became largely irrelevant once the OSCE’s and UNMIK’s electoral engineering was taken into account. The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), led by Ibrahim Rugova, won 46 percent of the votes, but it wouldn’t have been able to form a government even if it had won a landslide victory – because the seats in the seven-member presidency and positions in the new ministries were already divided into a fixed ratio in advance.

It had already been decided that the largest party – the LDK – and the second largest party – the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which got 25 percent of the votes – would have two seats in the presidency. The third largest party was guaranteed one seat, while the two remaining seats were reserved for Serb and other minorities.

This system of dividing the seats up before the elections took place made the international pressure on Belgrade to encourage Kosovo Serbs to vote a bit disingenuous. The Serb community was already guaranteed 10 seats in the 120-seat assembly, a seat on the presidency, and at least one of the nine ministries – regardless of whether any Serbs voted at all.

The OSCE and UNMIK see Kosovo’s political parties as more of a hindrance than a help, in need of ‘continuous support from the OSCE Democratisation Department to enhance their organisational capacity and to increase their political and social possibilities to advocate for democratic changes’ (5). And in an attempt to make the parties more accountable, there are a host of restrictive regulations within the political sphere – including the fining of newspapers if they favour a major political party. Epoka e Re was fined DM 1000 for ‘a clear bias in favour of the PDK in its election political reporting’, while Bota Sot was fined DM 5500 for coverage that favoured the LDK (6).

The OSCE’s Kosovo code of conduct for Kosovo’s parties also breaches internationally accepted democratic norms by holding political parties responsible for the actions of their supporters (7).

The OSCE’s Kosovo election organisers sought to limit the influence of the political parties once they got into power. At a training session for Council of Europe observers, Daan Everts said, ‘these elections force a certain degree of power-sharing’, undermining the power of the larger parties by restricting their positions and influence in the new institutions (8) – before adding that the OSCE had learned from the municipal elections in 2000 ‘to impose a bit more’.

The flexible framework for a constitution allows the line between international and domestic responsibility to be easily blurred. So UNMIK has established ‘international advisers’ for the president, prime minister and ministers, and each ministry will be overseen by an international ‘principal adviser’. The functions reserved for the UN’s special representative are so vaguely defined that they cover much of the work of the nine ministries.

While the political parties were being restricted, at least civil society seemed to be booming – as reflected in the fact that there were twice as many domestic observers during these elections as there were in the local elections in 2000, representing one percent of the electorate. Daan Everts hailed the 17 November elections as the ‘best monitored elections this century’ (9), while the OSCE claimed this ‘could be the highest proportion of election observers to voters in the world’ (10).

But I was surprised to find that many of the domestic observers didn’t know what their NGO did or even what its initials stood for, and had only got involved after being told about it by a friend. One reason for the apparent strong NGO turnout could be that people were being paid between DM 25 (Serbian NGO CeSID) and DM 80 (Pristina-based Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms) to sit around looking bored for a day.

The OSCE and UNMIK celebrated Kosovo’s provincial elections as a major international success. The elections may have secured some international legitimacy for the UN protectorate in Kosovo – but phoney elections can only create phoney constitutional bodies. And the reduced turnout among Albanian voters (60 percent) and low turnout for registered Kosovo Serbs (50 percent) suggests that it is the domestic legitimacy of the imposed protectorate that might be the sticking point in the future.

David Chandler is senior lecturer in international relations at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster. He is the author of:

  • Constructing Global Civil Society: Morality and Power in International Relations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention (Pluto Press, 2002)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton (Pluto Press, 2000)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

And he is the editor of:

  • Protecting the Bosnian Peace: Lessons from a Decade of Nation Building (Routledge, 2004)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • Rethinking Human Rights: Critical Approaches to International Politics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

Read on:

Read an extended version of this article on the British Helsinki Human Rights Group website

Kosovo’s multiethnic experiment, by Jon Holbrook

Kosovo elections: who’s failing the test of democracy?, by David Chandler

Dictating democracy in Belarus, by David Chandler

spiked-issues: International

(1) ‘First Official Results in Kosovo Election Announced’, OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) Press Release, Pristina, 19 November 2001

(2) Constitutional framework for Provisional Self-Government, UN, 15 May 2001

(3) Constitutional framework for Provisional Self-Government, UN, 15 May 2001, p4

(4) Hans Haekkerup, ‘Provisional self-government: the challenge’, Focus Kosovo No1, October 2001, UNMIK Division of Public Information. For further background information on the framework for provisional self-government, read: Simon Chesterman, Kosovo in Limbo: State-Building and ‘Substantial Autonomy’, International Peace Academy, August 2001, available from the International Peace Academy website; Independent International Commission on Kosovo, The Follow-Up: Why Conditional Independence?, September 2001, available from the Independent International Commission on Kosovo; International Crisis Group, Kosovo: Landmark Election, November 2001, available from the International Crisis Group website

(5) Kosovo’s Concerns: Voters’ Voices (Pristina: OSCE Mission in Kosovo, 2001), piii

(6) ‘Fines Given for Political Violence and Reporting Bias’, OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) Press Release, Pristina, 10 November 2001; ‘Newspaper Sanctioned for Photo’, OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) Press Release, Pristina, 16 November 2001

(7) ‘The Code of Conduct for Political Parties, Coalitions, Citizens’ Initiatives, Independent Candidates, Their Supporters and Candidates’, Electoral Rule No.1 January 2001, OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Central Election Commission. Available from the OSCE Mission in Kosovo website

(8) Speech at the Council of Europe Training Programme, Pristina, 13 November 2001

(9) Calls for Kosova’s Serbs to Vote’, RFE/RL Newsline, Vol5, No214, PartII, 9 November 2001

(10) ‘Plea to Election Observers: Be Patient’, OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) Press Release, Pristina, 9 November 2001

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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