People’s Party of Kosovo Threatened by Gov Officials Using Covid Crisis to Seize Power

The people’s party and its democratically elected leader, PM Albin Kurti, are being undermined by officials exploiting the outbreak for personal gain.

First meeting of the Government of the Republic of Kosovo. February 4, 2020. (Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo)

Leading an activist government democratically elected by Kosovo voters, Prime Minister Albin Kurti is facing an ongoing economic reconstruction, systemic government corruption and a rapidly changing global economy.

What does the future hold for Kosovo’s liberal government? Can they hold on to their elected positions in spite of resistance from within and pressure from neighboring Serbia, a country with whom Kosovo has longstanding grievances?

Opportunistic officials within the Kosovo government have used the Covid-19 outbreak in a bid to seize power. Will it work?

Journalist Allegra Nokaj sat down to interview Prime Minister Albin Kurti and discuss it.

AN: In 2005, you and 14 other political activists founded the movement for self-determination. What achievements have highlighted your party’s success in the 15-years since its founding?

PM AK: Our party, “Lëvizja VETËVENDOSJE!” started out as a social and political movement. We organized activities (petitions, demonstrations, symbolic actions, roundtables, etc.) which aimed to protect the sovereignty of Kosovo and to give the people the right of self- determination.

VETËVENDOSJE! is committed to making social and political changes, based on the principles of equality, democracy, political freedom and social justice for every citizen. Through our party’s platform, the social groups that we prioritize are youth, women and the Albanian diaspora.

Our aim is to guarantee equal rights and opportunities for all citizens of Kosova, despite their differences. It is true that we were a movement of a dozen activists in 2005, and now our political party has over 50,000 members in 2020. Besides our activity in the Republic of Kosova, VETËVENDOSJE! also has branches in several European countries, in the United States and in Albania.

Albin Kurti speaking during a conference on human and minority rights. October 1, 2017. (photo: Arianit)

AN: Since becoming Prime Minister of Kosovo, your support in Parliament has been cut in half, but your support among Kosovaars has doubled. You were elected Prime Minister at a time where corruption has plagued Kosovo’s politics.

What actions are you taking to rid out corruption from Kosovo’s government?

PM AK: It is true that there has been huge support for this government and I’m not surprised because more than 50% of the people on the 6th of October voted for change. What happened in the Parliament on 25th of March was that the LDK party who was part of this change, withdrew from the government and helped topple it. People were always for change in our country, but political parties have repeatedly let them down.

Vetëvendosje will always choose the people. There was also huge public outcry due to the toppling of the government during the pandemic where the health of citizens was the only thing that mattered.

Citizens follow us, perhaps more closely than we think they do in this era of technology, and they are able to tell wrong from right and what happened in March 25 was wrong and they will never forget that.

Corruption in Kosova is concentrated at high-levels, meaning high-level positions and high-level paying jobs in the public sector. Such positions all belonged to government officials and public officials who abused their authority to benefit from public tenders, state licenses and everything they had authority over. In order to fight corruption, you need change at the top.

We formed a government with officials free from corruption and took decisions to free public enterprises from corruption as well by dismissing board members and executive directors who had plunged public companies in debts and mismanagement. We downsized the government, lowered wages for government and public officials and cut privileges to make the government work smarter and faster but also be more representative.

In less than 100 days we took close to 200 decisions which laid out the foundations for a good governance, free from corruption and crime. We showed that it is possible to have a decent government that represents the people.

AN: What measures have you taken to improve economic growth and lower the unemployment rate in Kosovo?

Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic there was a mandatory switch from the economic development program of the government, which was focused on decreasing unemployment and promoting local producers, to emergency economic measures for the survival of the economy during the pandemic, but also for economic recovery afterwards.

Nevertheless, we did help preserve the economy by stimulating small businesses to file for unemployment benefits through registering unregistered workers at the tax administration with one-year employment contracts. More than 10,000 people have been registered as employed to benefit from the government fiscal emergency package.

Our first fiscal emergency package in response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 was about 10% of our yearly budget or 190 million Euro. Now we have presented the economic recovery plan which is 1.26 billion Euro to be injected into our economy in the next 24 months and stretching for the next 5 years.

Our economic recovery plan will seek to increase employment through wage subsidies and through a structural change of our economy with a focus on local production, increase of exports and reduction of trade deficit.

AN: Throughout the coronavirus outbreak in Kosovo, you and President Thaçi have disagreed on the measures put in place to stop the spread of the diseases.

How have President Thaçi's actions during the outbreak of the virus been an abuse of power, in the interest of personal gain?

Throughout the nationwide pandemic, as your concerns have been on helping the people of Kosovo, President Thaçi has opposed your leadership and made a request to nominate a new candidate to form a government.

What other actions has President Thaçi taken to undermine your role as Prime Minister?

PM AK: President Thaçi has continuously abused his power to spread turmoil and confusion. He started by interfering in negotiations for a coalition government- which we had with LDK soon after election results.

He continued his destructive and partisan role by interfering in the government by asking to declare a “state of exception” on COVID-19, when there wasn’t any need for one because we only had 19 people infected and no deaths.

To prevent this, I dismissed a minister from LDK who publicly went against the government position and supported the President’s request. After President Thaçi’s project for “state of exception” failed, he set out to grab powers from me as Prime Minister.

On the 23rd of March he called for people not to respect the decisions taken by the government in response to COVID-19, thus creating confusion and calling for civil disobedience. In his attempt to show defiance to the government, he blatantly violated the terms set by the Ministry of Health by drinking coffee in a restaurant when the restaurants were closed.

This kind of behavior has just reiterated the fact that the President is not a unifying figure, but rather a destructive person occupying the President’s seat to pursue personal interests. I order for him to be more than a President, he wanted me to be less than a Prime Minister.

All this against our constitution and democracy.

He has also undermined the Prime Minister’s competences in foreign policy. Our constitution is clear that foreign policy is created by the government, this was clarified in June 2019 with the Constitutional Court decision K043/19.

The president should represent foreign policy in accordance with his ceremonial role. Yet, to this day Thaçi continues to undermine the government by pursuing a personal foreign policy completely in opposition to the government.

(Contributing journalist, Allegra Nokaj) (Contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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