Ex-PM Kosovo Rights to Run for Parliament – The debate raged for nearly seven hours, but eventually Kosovo’s divided Central Election Commission, CEC, took a decision on January 22 that threatens the prospects of the popular Vetevendosje [Self-Determination] party in a Valentine’s Day snap election.
Perparim Isufi and Emirjeta Vllahiu
The CEC voted to reject the party’s entire list of candidates for parliament, citing its failure to heed an earlier request to remove five names – including that of Vetevendosje leader and former prime minister Albin Kurti – because they had each been convicted of a criminal offence within the last three years.
A complaints panel has returned the list to the CEC for certification, with the five names removed.
But the bombshell decision leaves Vetevendosje at a crossroads, and effectively bars Kurti – who individually won more votes in the last election in 2019 than any other political leader – from the MP aisles.
While all eyes are now on the Supreme Court, experts are divided over the merits of the decision and what it may mean for Kurti personally. Barred from parliament, might he still be installed as prime minister if the party ends up running, and wins?
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Criticism of court ruling
The row dates to December, when Kosovo’s Constitutional Court effectively toppled the government of Avdullah Hoti, ruling that it was illegitimate because it was voted into office with the help of a vote cast by an MP, Etem Arifi, who had been sentenced to prison for corruption within the last three years.
According to Kosovo’s Law on General Elections, anyone found guilty of a criminal offence within the last three years is ineligible to stand for parliament.
Kurti and his former justice minister from Vetevendosje, Albulena Haxhiu, were each given suspended prison sentences by a Pristina court in January 2018 for setting off tear gas in parliament in protest at a border demarcation with neighbouring Montenegro and plans to establish an autonomous association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo. The court verdict became final only in October 2018.
In light of the December ruling by the Constitutional Court, the CEC asked Kosovo’s Judicial Council to verify the lists of candidates submitted by political parties for the snap February 14 poll. The Council identified 47 out of 1,081 candidates as ineligible, including Kurti and four others from Vetevendosje.
Its list rejected, Vetevendosje complained to the Election Complaints Panel, which turned down the appeal and asked the CEC to verify the party’s electoral list without Kurti and his four colleagues. On January 27, the party turned to the Supreme Court and is waiting on its ruling.
Constitutional expert Faton Fetahu said the Supreme Court was unlikely to contradict the CEC or the Election Complaints Panel.
“And rightly so,” he wrote in an article published by Kallxo.com, “because these institutions cannot change the verdict of the Constitutional Court.”
Fetahu took issue, however, with the Constitutional Court’s original ruling for failing to distinguish between criminal offences.
“Equalisation of any perpetrator of any criminal offence no matter the nature of the crime and the sentence imposed is a mistake which now could be rectified only by reviewing the Law on General Elections,” he wrote.
Kurti still in the running for PM?
Vetevendosje legal expert Blerim Sallahu told journalists this week that electoral authorities had no constitutional grounds to bar its leader, arguing that suspended sentences “do not produce judicial circumstances.”
But if the Supreme Court ruling goes against it, there’s talk of Kurti retaking the post of prime minister anyway if his party wins.
“Even if Kurti and others are barred from running for MP, they should not be barred from taking any government post after the elections,” said Rreze Hoxha, a researcher at the Pristina-based think tank Group for Legal and Political Studies, GLPS.
Envisaging such an outcome, outgoing Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti of the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, said on Wednesday that the decisions of the courts “should be respected” and that those who have issues with the law should not be allowed to hold public office at all.
“Anyone who has problems with the law cannot ask for any public position and cannot come before the citizens,” said Hoti, whom the LDK have put forward for the post of PM again.
Court courts controversy
It is not the first time in Kosovo’s short history as an independent state that the Constitutional Court has made political waves.
In September 2010, some two and a half years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, the Court ruled that then President Fatmir Sejdiu had no right to hold both presidential office and the post of leader of the LDK simultaneously.
Six months later, in March 2011, the Court found that a vote in parliament to elect Behgjet Pacolli as president of Kosovo was held in violation of the constitution.
Another much-debated ruling came in 2014, when it said that the party that won the most votes in an election should have first option to form a government, leading to six months of deadlock as the winning Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, rowed with an alliance of opposition parties that wanted the chance to form a government. The stalemate ended when one opposition party, LDK, broke away and formed a ‘grand coalition’ with the PDK.
Then in May last year, the Court gave the LDK the right to form a government without a snap election after Kurti’s government fell to a no-confidence motion after just 51 days in office. Hoti took office.
“The latest decisions of the Constitutional Court have changed the rules of the game,” said Enver Hasani, a former head of the Court.
Hasani took issue with the ruling concerning Kurti, telling Kosovo’s public broadcaster, RTK, that the Court had “violated the right to be elected.”
The court, he said, “has created a new standard by ruling that anyone who has a sentence, no matter the offence, cannot run in elections.”