The close of 2010 and the first week of 2011 were tough times for the authorities of Kosovo, despite a few diplomatic gains, such as official recognition of the country’s independence by Qatar and Guinea-Bissau.
First came the Council of Europe’s report on organized crime which includes allegations that Kosovo leaders have committed heinous crimes, including trafficking of human organs. It was followed by the parliamentary election, which considering official irregularities alone surpassed all previous elections held in Kosovo during the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in terms of fraud and abuse.
Due to the irregularities, elections were repeated in five municipalities on 9 January, while it has been announced that the vote will be also repeated in the city of Mitrovica. Polls opened in five regions in Kosovo, bringing some 100,000 voters back to the ballot box after authorities annulled results from the regions due to vote-rigging.
Officials said that the final vote was not likely to change incumbent Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s claim to have won the election but is expected to affect the handing out of parliamentary seats.
Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) party now has 32% of votes nationwide after the rerun, followed by the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) with 24.7% – one percentage point more than after the initial 12 December tally. In December, the PDK had 33.5%.
European Parliamentary Rapporteur for Kosovo Urlike Lunacek said that the elections were deliberately manipulated and that this may affect the country’s future European integration. A possible repeat of the elections in their entirety in the fall would be watched very closely by the EU.
The allegations against Thaci and his associates of running a major organized crime network involved in weapons, drugs, and human organ smuggling, along with the election irregularities, will have an effect on traditionally very strong US support for Kosovo, and particularly for Thaci and the PDK. This is not because Washington has had a change of heart, but because the stories have been so widely published that it will no longer be able to justify this support to the US public.
In an editorial, the Washington Post called on US authorities to investigate allegations from the Council of Europe’s report. The editorial also objected to Thaci’s announcement to publish the names of the Albanian who helped compile the report.
Will this mean the end of Thaci’s political career? Maybe not quite yet, but it’s not out of the question. His credibility on the international scene has been severely shaken, and furthermore, the elections showed that the most popular politician in Kosovo now is the new leader of the LDK, Isa Mustafa, who won most of the individual votes.
Still, if even some of the allegations against Thaci are proven – that he is a mafia boss for an organized crime network that smuggles everything from drugs and guns to human organs harvested from kidnapped Serbs – it could mark the beginning of his political end.