The party landscape in Kosovo differs significantly from that of Western European or Western countries with a long tradition of parliamentary democracy. At the same time, it shows strong structural similarities with the party systems in the other successor states of socialist Yugoslavia, but also certain, Kosovo-specific differences. The programmatic-ideological distinctions along the western left-right scheme of the Kosovar parties are rather small and superficial, also because they are not based on a corresponding capitalist social model and corresponding historical modernization processes. The parties’ self-identification as social democratic-liberal-conservative therefore remains vague, as in the neighboring states of the region. Unlike in the neighborhood, In the early 1990’s or immediately thereafter, parties assigned themselves to one of the European party landscapes and sought membership in the relevant party families – albeit more out of tactical considerations than ideological conviction – the ideological assignment of most Kosovar parties is only in the last Years ago or partly still unclear today, while very few are organizationally connected to one of the European party families. A structural feature of the party system is the ethnic, due to the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, Albanians and Serbs, and even more due to the 10 seats in parliament reserved for the Serbian and the other minorities, which is why the minorities are almost exclusively organized in mono-ethnic parties (e.g. United Roma Party of Kosovo, the Montenegrin Democratic Party, the League of Egyptians of Kosovo, the Turkish Union of Kosovo, the Democratic Party of Ashkali Kosovo or the United Serbian List). The remaining parties are almost exclusively Albanian mono-ethnic in terms of members and voters. The latter are traditionally organized regionally, ie have their (voter) base in certain regions of Kosovo – even if these ties have gradually started to dissolve in recent years. Another structural feature of the Kosovar party system can be traced back to its emergence during the break-up of Yugoslavia at the end of the 1980’s and further development after the Kosovo War in 1999 – that is the dichotomy between the party of peaceful resistance against the Milošević regime of the 1990’s, the LDK and the parties of the former UÇK commanders – PDK, AAK and NISMA – which emerged from the UÇK Liberation Army. In particular, the conflict between the largest of the commanding parties, the PDK, and the LDK has shaped politics and the party system in the past decade. The PDK has been involved in the government without interruption since Kosovo’s independence, mostly as the strongest force and the one that provided the prime minister, including some years of coalition with the LDK. Overall, the spectrum of parties in Kosovo is considerably more pluralistic compared to regional regions, none of the larger parties has been able to achieve an absolute majority of votes or parliamentary seats since independence and all governments were therefore coalition governments.
The (albeit somewhat outdated) manual on politics, politicians and parties in Kosovo by the NGO Kosovar Stability Initiative (IKS) provides a helpful overview of the political landscape and the leading politicians in Kosovo.
According to FRANCISCOGARDENING, the most important (parliamentary) parties in Kosovo are:
PDK: The Democratic Party of Kosovo(PDK, Partia Demokratike e Kosovës), founded on October 12, 1999, is one of the two major parties that took over the political legacy of the UÇK. The party’s vision is to integrate Kosovo into Euro-Atlantic structures, i.e. NATO and the EU. Programmatically, the PDK focuses on major topics: economic growth, good governance and social security. In terms of economic policy, the implementation of (large) infrastructure projects (motorway, coal and hydropower plants) are on the program, but also subsidies for the agricultural sector, financed by the privatization of public companies (e.g. mobile communications). The aim is also to keep the tax level low and, if possible, to lower it further. In social policy, the PDK votes for the introduction of health insurance, as well as for the expansion of social welfare for those affected by the war. Another project of the PDK is to raise wages in the public sector. On the subject of minority rights, the PDK refers to the rights enshrined in the constitution. Hashim Thaçi – alias the snake (alb. Gjarpni) – was the leading head of the party and also its party chairman from the time the party was founded until he was sworn in as President of Kosovo in 2016. Thaçi, who is also considered one of the founders of the UÇK, but at least was its political leader, took over the leadership of the Kosovar delegation in the negotiations in Rambouillet in 1999. Thaçi have repeatedly been accused of having close ties to organized crime and involvement in war crimes and organ trafficking, without any evidence to date. Since 2016 the party of Kadri Veseli, who was president of the Kosovar parliament until the new elections in 2019. After the end of the Kosovo war, Veseli was head of the PDK underground intelligence service SHIK, which is said to have committed crimes against Serbs and political opponents to this day. Thaçi and Veseli are rumored to be targeted by the Specialist Court in The Hague, which investigated crimes committed by the Kosovar Albanian side during and immediately after the Kosovo war, but has not yet brought any charges. In the past, the party has modernized itself to some extent through the integration of academics such as the historian and former Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj and a young generation of politicians such as the former Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi, the former European Minister and current Ambassador to the USA, Vlora Çitaku and the former PDK parliamentary group leader Memli Krasniqi. In the early elections in October 2019, the PDK became only the third strongest force, behind the two largest opposition parties, for the first time since Kosovo’s independence, and announced that it would join the opposition.
LDK: The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK, Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës) was founded on December 23, 1989 by 23 intellectuals from the writers’ association and journalists. In the 1990’s, the LDK was the epitome of passive resistance and dialogue and developed into a peaceful collective movement (sources speak of 700,000 people or up to 90% of the adult population as members of the LDK) or into a political hegemonic force against the Serbian Domination. Ibrahim Rugova was a leading figure from the very beginning and long-standing party chairman who is sometimes referred to as the Gandhi of Kosovo. The former chairman of the Writers’ Union continues to serve as a figure of identification for the party even after his death. In the preamble of the party program it is stated that the ideas and plans of the LDK for the future of Kosovo are always to be seen in Rugova’s vision and philosophy. Programmatically, the LDK stands – according to its self-description – for conservatism but also for economic liberalism. The overriding goal, like most of the other parties, is the connection and integration of Kosovo into NATO and the European Union. One of the party’s economic goals is the privatization of state-owned companies. In terms of social policy, the LDK stands for the introduction of health insurance, further liberalization of the pension system, as well as for basic security at a low level. Party chairman has been since 2010. Isa Mustafa, who between 2007 and 2013 was mayor of the capital Prishtina, and between 2014 and 2017 headed the grand coalition with the PDK as Prime Minister. In the new elections in 2019, the LDK, which had been in the opposition since 2017, only just finished second and entered a joint government with the first-placed VV in February 2020 after lengthy negotiations. The top candidate of the LDK in the elections was the lawyer and former chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament, Vjosa Osmani, who was formerly an opponent of the grand coalition and an opponent of Mustafa. Other important party representatives are the former parliamentary group leader and current deputy prime minister Avdullah Hotiand the Mayor of Gjilan, Lutfi Haziri. At the end of March, the LDK overthrew the joint government by a vote of no confidence; Since June 3, the LDK has led a new coalition government under Prime Minister Hoti.
VV: The party self-determination(VV, Vetëvendosje!) Developed out of a youth and student protest movement. It was founded in 2004 as a citizens’ initiative, which in turn can be traced back to the Kosovo Action Network (KAN) founded in 1997, and took part in elections in Kosovo for the first time as a political party in 2010, although it continues to see itself more as a movement than a classic party. The VV interprets the recent history of Kosovo and its current situation as a result of the lack of rights to self-determination, which is understood in an ethnic-Albanian way. From this the party derives its ostensible demands, namely both the end of direct influence of foreign actors in the affairs of Kosovo and the unification of Kosovo with Albania. In economic and social policy terms, the VV clearly defines itself as a left-wing social democratic party and opposes the privatization of public companies. The inadequate tax base is discussed as well as the negative effects of the shadow economy. According to Party platform the process of decentralization should not be based on ethnic criteria and should therefore be completely redesigned. The party is critical of the EU-led political dialogue with Serbia, on the one hand rejects negotiations with Belgrade on matters of Kosovo Serbs, but on the other hand emphasizes an interest in a direct dialogue with representatives of the Kosovo Serbs. In the context of the failed negotiations to form a government in 2014 and after the October 2019 elections, the party showed tendencies to pragmatically weaken its dogmatic programmatic positions in government responsibility. The VV relies on broad support from the population (the strongest single party in the parliamentary elections 2017) and manages to turn this support into an active, channeling a sometimes violent protest culture (estimates assume up to 10,000 active, mostly young supporters). In 2007, two people were killed by UNMIK police officers in a demonstration organized by VV. The party leader was sentenced to nine months in prison. The face of the movement is Albin Kurti. In the 1990’s, a student leader and KLA activist, Kurti was arrested by the Serbian police in 1999 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but released from prison in 2001 under the new Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić. Kurti has headed the movement and later party since it was founded, a position that he only handed over to Visar Ymeri from 2015 to the beginning of 2018. The current mayor of Prishtina, Shpend Ahmeti, was one of the most important personalities in the party until the split in 2018. Kurti was sentenced to nine months in prison in connection with the 2007 demonstrations.
In the elections in October 2019, the VV became the strongest force for the first time; In February 2020 she succeeded in forming a government for the first time, the VV chairman Kurti became Prime Minister. With the vote of no confidence in the Kurti government in March and the election of a new government without an VV at the beginning of June, the VV is currently again in opposition.
AAK: The party Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK, Aleanca për Ardhmërinë e Kosovë) was founded on May 2, 2000 as a multi-party coalition. The alliance built on those UÇK members who did not find a political home in the PDK as well as on smaller older parties. One of the movement’s original goals was to overcome the political dualism between the LDK and the PDK. In 2004 the coalition was transformed into an independent party. The AAK was involved in government from 2001 to 2007 and from 2017 to the beginning of 2020 and represents with Ramush Haradina – jthe Prime Minister of Kosovo after 2004 and 2005 and between 2017 and February 2020. Haradinaj, who was twice indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague but both acquitted for lack of evidence, is the party’s pre-eminence. Since 2007, however, the party has been strengthening its image and its work at the local level and was voted in the last local elections in 2017 strongest force in four municipalities (Deçan / Dečani, Gjakovë / Đakovica, Obiliq / Obilić, Junik). The AAK’s image of society is based on traditional values and emphasizes the importance of the family. In terms of economic policy, the AAK advocates extensive privatization of public companies, with the exception of companies of strategic importance. The current tax level is seen as too high. Investments and subsidies for growth sectors such as tourism, energy and agriculture are to be expanded. The party’s socio-political agenda includes the introduction of universal health insurance, a reduction in unemployment and an increase in social benefits. In the October 2019 elections, the AAK joined the electoral alliance with the VV spin-off PSD and was only the fourth strongest force, but at the same time won all parliamentary seats of the alliance. Haradinaj, who announced that he would not take up his parliamentary mandate, remained Prime Minister until the election of the new government in early February 2020. Under the current Hoti government, the AAK has been involved in the government again as a smaller coalition partner since June and provides 5 ministers.
ARK: The New Alliance of Kosovo (AKR, Aleanca Kosova e Re) was founded on May 3, 2006. Programmatically, the AKR can be characterized as economically liberal. The central pillar of the program is economic growth. The aim is to achieve growth of 7%, to create 30,000 jobs a year and thus to halve poverty. Public-private partnership projects are to be used for large infrastructure investments. The privatization of public companies is to be continued. In terms of social policy, the alliance aims to develop the health and education system, but also to improve services for poor families and old people. The central figure is the party founder and chairman Behgjet Pacolli, industrial magnate, owner of Mabetex Group, a construction company based in Switzerland. In 2010 Pacolli was elected President of Kosovo. A short time later, however, the election was declared unconstitutional and therefore invalid. In the last Kosovo government from 2017 to the beginning of 2020, the AKR was represented by three ministers and one minister – more than the party had MPs. Behgjet Pacolli will hold the post of Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister until February 2020.
NISMA: The NISMA party (Social Democratic Initiative, NISMA Social Demokrate) was founded in February 2014 as a split of the PDK from former high party representatives around Fatmir Limaj and founded by the then Speaker of Parliament Jakup Krasniqi. The party sees itself as a social democratic party. In the 2014 elections, the party was part of the opposition alliance against the PDK, together with VV, LDK and AAK. From 2017 to February 2020 she was part of the “government of the war commanders” with PDK and AAK, and returned to power in June of this year under the LDK-led Hoti government (currently she has 3 ministers). The current chairman is Limaj, who has pending countless court cases for war crimes and corruption from his time as minister in PDK governments, but was never convicted.
PSD: The Kosovo Social Democratic Party(PSD, Partia Socialdemokrate e Kosovës) was originally founded in 1990 and has been revived several times since then. It experienced a second “re-establishment” in May 2018, when high officials of the VV, including 12 members of the parliament, almost half of the parliamentary group around the party chairman Visar Ymeri, group chairman Dardan Sejdiu split off from the party and took over the PSD. The mayor of the capital, Shpend Ahmeti, became chairman. The party, which sees itself as a social democratic party, was the only opposition party to participate with the governing coalition in the platform for negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia for a comprehensive agreement from the end of 2018. In the October 2019 elections, the PSD was not rewarded for its constructive stance and did not manage to to get one of their candidates from the electoral alliance with the AAK into parliament. After the PSD left the People’s Assembly, the PSD elected the former General Secretary of the VV,Dardan Molliqal as the new party chairman.
SL: The Serbian List Party(SL, Srpska Lista) is the dominant party of the Serbian minority in Kosovo, with strong support from and dependence on the Serbian government and the ruling party SNS. The SL has its origins in the first local elections in 2013 in the predominantly Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo as a result of the Brussels April Agreement 2013, or in the process of integration of Kosovo Serbs that has begun within the framework of the political dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia led by the EU. As a party-political instrument of Belgrade, the founding of the SL was originally tolerated by Western governments with the aim of assisting with the integration of the Kosovar Serbs in the north into the state of Kosovo. As a result of the crisis of the dialogue, the SL, with the help of Belgrade and on the basis of the control of the parallel still existing municipalities and municipal administrations under the Serbian and Kosovar system and public employment, on which the existence of the absolute majority of Kosovo Serbs is based, has over the years control won all 10 mostly Serbian communities in the north and south of the country, and exercises a kind of one-party rule. The chairman of the party is the mayor of Northern Mitrovica, Milan Rakić. Vice-chairman since 2018 and exercises a kind of one-party rule. The chairman of the party is the mayor of Northern Mitrovica, Milan Rakić. Vice-chairman since 2018 and exercises a kind of one-party rule. The chairman of the party is the mayor of Northern Mitrovica, Milan Rakić. Vice-chairman since 2018 Milan Radoičić, who is considered to be the head of organized crime in the north and who is wanted by the Kosovar authorities in connection with the murder of the Kosovar opposition politician Oliver Ivanović in January 2018. Since 2014, the SL has been part of all government coalitions in Kosovo. In the October 2019 elections, the SL won all 10 seats reserved for the Serbian minority in parliament for the first time and provided 2 ministers in the Kurti government to which it was formally not a member. When Prime Minister Hoti took office in June this year, the party is again officially part of the government coalition, in which it has two ministers: the party leader Rakić is Minister for Public Administration and Local Government, Dalibor Jevtić is Minister for Minority Communities and Return.
SLS: The Independent Liberal Party (SLS, Slobodna Liberalna Stranka) was founded in 2006 and until 2014 was the largest party of the Serb minority in Kosovo. The party ruled as a state-loyal party after the independence of Kosovo in the 6 Serbian majority communities in the south of the country and was part of all governing coalitions in Prishtina. Due to the SLS supported by Belgrade and the increasing use of administrative resources and massive political pressure, the SLS was increasingly politically marginalized and for the first time no longer won a parliamentary seat in the 2019 elections. The party chairman had been Slobodan Petrović since the party was founded and until he resigned after the election debacle.