Municipal elections in Kosovo will take place on October 28, 2000. As in Bosnia and Hercegovina,
Kosovo's first post-conflict elections will have a profound impact in shaping the democratic
development of the province, with ramifications for the rule of law, human rights, and the overall
security situation. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is organizing the elections,
which were mandated by the 1999 Rambouillet agreement.
The experience of Bosnia demonstrates that unless Kosovo's first post-war elections follow the highest international standards, the results will serve only to undermine international efforts to build a lasting peace in Kosovo. Yet to date, preparations for the elections appear to have been driven more by the desire to meet the pre-determined deadline set for the poll, than the need to create the minimum international standards necessary for free and fair elections.
The Pre-Election Climate in Kosovo
Basic requirements for a free and fair vote in Kosovo include adequate protections for ethnic minorities, freedom of movement, a free media, and an environment free of political violence that can ensure freedom of assembly, association, and expression. These conditions are lacking in Kosovo today.
More than a year after the end of the war in Kosovo, the security situation in the province remains a cause for serious concern. Attacks on minorities, including murder, continue. On July 12, a Serbian Orthodox priest and two seminary students were wounded in a drive-by shooting near the village of Klokot. A grenade was thrown from a moving car into a group of children at a basketball court in the Serb village of Crkvena Vodica on August 18, leaving ten wounded. On August 27, an Albanian man drove his car into a group of Serb children in the same village before fleeing the scene, killing one child and wounding three. An eighty-year-old Serb farmer from the same village was shot dead later the same day. On September 14, a forty-five-year old Serb woman was shot dead at her home in Kamenica. A sixty-year-old Serb shepherd who had been reported missing was discovered dead near Strpce on October 4, with gun-shot wounds to the body.
With most minorities displaced outside Kosovo or living in minority enclaves under permanent guard by troops from the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), the decision by Serbs to boycott registration should have come as little surprise, even without the alleged manipulation by then-Yugoslav president Milosevic. In the case of Kosovo's minorities, therefore, it is hard to argue that the minimum conditions exist for the holding of free and fair elections.
Kosovo's Albanian majority, more than a million of whom have registered to vote in the elections, have also been plagued by post-war political violence. In November, a politician from the Democratic League of Kosovo, the party headed by Ibrahim Rugova and known by its Albanian acronym, LDK, was murdered another in the Drenica region was kidnapped and interrogated. These incidents were followed by a spate of execution-style killings of prominent ex-members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the most recent on September 20. Although the killings are frequently attributed to rivalries among organized crime figures, some of the murders are clearly political. They include May's killing in Prizren of the political moderate and prominent former-KLA leader Ekrem Rexha (known as Commander "Drini").
Political violence has increased over the summer. On June 15 Alil Dresaj, a senior LDK politician, was shot dead by persons wearing the insignia of the former KLA. On July 7, Ramush Haradinaj, a politician and former senior KLA commander, was wounded in the village of Streoce during what appears to have been a shootout. On July 12, a close aide to Haradinaj was murdered. The burned corpse of Shaban Manaj, a senior LDK official, was discovered on August 6 in a remote village. He had been kidnaped on July 27. Attacks directed against the LDK continued in August. On August 1, an LDK activist was shot and wounded in Podujevo. The head of the LDK in Srbica was wounded in a shooting the following day. The wife of an LDK official died in an explosion at their home in Dragash on August 9. Several LDK offices were attacked during the same month.
On August 18, a bomb exploded at an OSCE building in central Pristina. The building was used to house several smaller political parties, including Bosniak and Turkish parties contesting the election, and the representative office of the Yugoslav government. Many observers suspect political motives in the September murders of Shefki Popova and Rexhep Luci, two prominent Albanians with close ties to the LDK: Popova, a veteran journalist (see media section, below) and Luci, head of Kosovo's housing and reconstruction department, were gunned down on consecutive days. On October 6, a municipal elections candidate from the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK, the party headed by former KLA leader Hashim Thaci), was arrested in connection with a triple-bomb attack in Prizren three days earlier.
The Role of the Media
There are serious constraints to freedom of expression in Kosovo at present, notably in the form of attacks on journalists. On September 10, Shefki Popova, a senior correspondent with Albanian-language daily Rilindija, died in the town of Vucitrn after being shot and repeatedly stabbed by two unidentified men. Rilindija is widely seen as close to the LDK. The killing followed the disappearance a day earlier of Marjan Melonasi, a journalist from a ethnically-mixed family who worked with the Serbian-language service of Kosovo Radio-Television. On June 20, Valentina Cukic, the editor of a Serbian-language program of the multi-ethnic Radio Kontakt, was shot and badly wounded. Last year, the publisher and editor of Koha Ditore were verbally attacked and threatened after publishing an editorial condemning attacks on minorities. In addition to the intimidation of journalists, biased coverage of the elections is also a concern. Although the internationally-funded electronic media are balanced in their coverage, many daily newspapers and some private radio stations are extremely partisan in their reporting on politics in Kosovo.
The international community is clearly well aware of the dangers to the free and fair elections posed by inflammatory reporting and intimidation of journalists. A variety of measures have been introduced, including an UNMIK regulation forbidding hate speech, a code of conduct and training for journalists, media monitoring by the OSCE, the explicit prohibition in the election code of conduct on the use by political parties of language that "incites hatred," and the decision to include media monitoring in the mandate of the Council of Europe Election Observation Mission. Nevertheless, the OSCE Mission in Kosovo and the Central Election Commission must guard against the possibility that the inflammatory rhetoric used by radio stations and mainstream newspapers will be used to incite violence during the election period.
Enforcement of Election Standards
As in Bosnia and Hercegovina, enforcing international standards in the organization and conduct of the elections in Kosovo presents a major challenge to the international community. In particular there are concerns that the bodies set up to enforce these standards will be subject to international and local pressure to ignore serious violations or to use only perfunctory sanctions to punish them.
The main yardstick for the conduct of the parties during the election is the Code of Conduct for the elections, which spells out their obligations in accordance with international standards. Two bodies are responsible for enforcing the code. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has overarching responsibility for all aspects of the elections. It is chaired by the OSCE Mission Chief, Ambassador Daan Everts, assisted by two international and nine local deputies. The Election Claims and Appeals Sub-Commission (ECAC) has specific responsibility for ensuring compliance with the electoral code. The ECAC consists of an international commissioner, Dieter Schoene, and two local deputies. Its decisions are made by consensus with the Chief Commissioner having the right to decide unilaterally in the event of deadlock. The ECAC has the power to order corrective action to be taken and to impose fines of up to 10,000 Deutsche marks (approximately U.S.$4450). More serious penalties, such as removing a candidate from a party list or banning a party from contesting the elections, can be made only with the approval of the Central Election Commission.
Experience from Bosnia and Hercegovina indicates that both bodies are likely to be faced with potentially explosive decisions, such as whether to impose sanctions on leading parties that may result in a reduction in the number of candidates they are permitted to field or even ban them from contesting some municipalities. Kosovo's political parties are unlikely to be the only source of pressure on the CEC and the ECAC. During preparations for elections in Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1996, the Bosnian Election Commission came under significant pressure from some OSCE member governments to proceed with elections despite the absence of the minimum conditions. While the municipal elections were ultimately postponed, the decision to go ahead with the vote at the national and entity level resulted in flawed elections in which existing nationalist parties in each of the communities were able to further consolidate power.
Effective and impartial monitoring of the campaign, events on voting day, and the counting and tabulation of results are crucial to the integrity of any election process. The Council of Europe will coordinate election monitoring. This is a welcome departure from past practice, in which the OSCE was responsible both for the conduct of the elections in the region and for monitoring them. That innovation aside, the Council of Europe Election Observation Mission follows a traditional pattern, with the deployment of a small team of long-term observers to monitor preparations for the elections, including the already completed registration process, the conduct of the campaign and the functioning of the Central Election Commission. Several days prior to the vote, 150 short-term observers coordinated by the Mission will be deployed for an eight-day period to observe the voting process throughout the province. Early indications suggest that the Mission values its independence and intends to measure accurately the election against international standards. If the experience of Bosnia is indicative, the Mission's commitment to those values may be severely tested if serious irregularities occur. In such a situation, there is likely to be considerable pressure from some Western governments to overlook the problems and to certify the elections regardless.
Implementing The Election Results
As noted above, implementing the results of the elections was one of the major challenges arising from the internationally-organized municipal elections in Bosnia. Although the difficulties in Bosnia were related to installing local officials representing one ethnic group in areas now dominated by another, it would be a mistake to imagine that Kosovo's majority Albanian population and the Serb boycott of the elections mean that issues over implementation will not arise. It is important to recall that de facto local authorities were established throughout Kosovo following the end of the war in June 1999. In many cases, those authorities were dominated by, or had strong links to, the KLA. Current polls show Ibrahim Rugova's LDK enjoying a lead over its main rival, the PDK, which is headed by former KLA leader Hashim Thaci and has strong ties to the former KLA throughout Kosovo. In the event of widespread LDK victories, many of the current de facto municipal authorities dominated by the KLA may be reluctant to hand over power to their rivals.
International standards governing the elections aim to foster an environment conducive to a free and fair vote. They derive from a variety of sources. United Nations Security Council resolution 1244, which established the international civilian and military presence in Kosovo, states that "the main responsibilities of the international civil presence will include overseeing the development of provisional institutions for democratic and autonomous self-government pending a political settlement, including the holding of elections." The conditions necessary for holding free and fair elections are laid down in Rambouillet Agreement, which was drafted by the international community and agreed upon by the Kosovo Albanian delegation to the Rambouillet talks. The Rambouillet conditions include: freedom of movement; an open and free political environment; an environment conducive to the return of displaced persons; a safe and secure environment that ensures freedom of assembly, association, and expression; and free media.
The Rambouillet agreement also obliges the parties to "comply fully with Paragraphs 7 and 8 of the OSCE Copenhagen Document." The 1990 Copenhagen Document on the Human Dimension enumerates the OSCE's standards on the conduct of free and fair elections. Key provisions are contained in paragraph 7, including the obligations to: "guarantee universal and equal suffrage to adult citizens," and "to permit political campaigning to be conducted in a fair and free atmosphere in which neither administrative action, violence nor intimidation bars the parties and the candidates from freely presenting their views and qualifications, or prevents the voters from learning and discussing them or from casting their vote free of fear of retribution."