Local elections in Kosovo

Setback for Albin Kurti's party
 Central Election Commission logo
Central Election Commission logo © Ibrahim Berisha (RFE/RL)

On 17 October 2021, Kosovo organised its fourth local elections since its declaration of independence on 17 February 2008.

In the first round on 17 October, there was no majority for any candidate in twenty-one of Kosovo’s thirty-eight municipalities, resulting in a run-off on Sunday, 14 November 2021.

The total turnout was 37.85 per cent of voters; in the last elections, in 2017, it was 44.1 per cent.

The International Election Monitoring Mission ENEMO assessed that the elections on 17 October, and also the mayoral run-off on 14 November, were calm despite tensions in the north and the COVID-19 pandemic. The elections have also been assessed highly positively by all Kosovar institutions and civil society as well.

Central-level opposition parties scored victories over the Vetëvendosje Movement (LVV), which leads the central government and won over 50 per cent of the vote in the parliamentary elections of 14 February 2021. Only nine months later, the LVV experienced a blow, becoming the only mainstream party in the country not to win a single municipality in the first round.

The results of these latest local elections in Kosovo reflect not only the spirit of punishing the parties through the popular vote, but also the evaluation of the individual candidates in certain municipalities.

The local election campaign focused on promises for better infrastructure, including more greenery, better schools, and kindergartens as well.

Significant emphasis was also placed on the improvement of health institutions by all mayors and municipal councillors.

The winners

The winner of the local elections was the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) taking nine municipalities.

The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) managed to win in seven municipalities. Their candidate, Përparim Rama – a London-educated architect – won the most important municipal race, that in the capital city, Prishtina, defeating former Minister of Health, Arben Vitija of the LVV, who was considered the absolute favourite before 17 October.  Rama’s win marks the LDK’s comeback in Prishtina after eight years, since the LDK leader Isa Mustafa lost the city to Vetëvendosje’s Shpend Ahmeti in 2013.

The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) also won five municipalities; the LVV won four municipalities, and is only ahead of the Social Democratic Initiative, which won just one municipality.

In one municipality, Obiliq, a Civic Initiative managed to win another mandate.

Of the non-Albanian parties, the Serb List won in ten Serb-majority municipalities, while the Turkish party (KDTP) won in the Municipality of Mamusha.

The liberals: New Kosova Alliance (AKR)

“We did not do well in the elections, but it’s not bad compared to the political euphoria that has reigned this year,” said Vesel Makolli, General Secretary of the AKR. In general, the AKR will be represented by ten local councillors in seven local municipalities in Kosovo, and is also expected to be a coalition partner in some other municipalities.

FNF alumnus, Gezim Mehmeti (in the picture), one of the candidates for Mayor of Prishtina, unfortunately only managed to win 1.89 per cent of the vote. According to Mehmeti, the citizens of Prishtina have shown a high culture in voting, but has added that when it comes to counting, there are always manipulations. He has requested a recount, stating that the whole process must be clarified.

Vetëvendosje losses

Prime Minister of Kosovo and Vetëvendosje leader Albin Kurti has insisted that parliamentary and local elections are different, while maintaining that his party’s share of the vote has grown compared to the last municipal elections in 2017. In the 2013 local elections the LVV won fourth place, and third place in 2017.

He does, however, admit his party’s weaknesses.

“The activism and mobilisation of our party in local elections continue to be different to those in national elections. One of the reasons is maybe that Vetëvendosje is identified with national topics and there is a lot more work than we thought to get identified with local issues in the municipalities,” Kurti said.

The chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Haki Abazi, listed two factors behind the LVV losses in the local elections. On the one hand, the LVV is more prominent on national issues and is more distant from its electorate on a local level. On the other, he noted that the LVV acted alone against several opposition forces, referring here to the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), the Democratic Party (PDK), and the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK).

“I think we need more time to make a deeper analysis. My first impression is that Vetëvendosje has become more recognised for its engagement on a national level and voters comprehend well its position and shape and how it approaches national themes. Meanwhile, we’ve had few actors at the local level, hence the connection with the citizens has been brief”, said Abazi.

He also spoke about an agreement between two opposition parties, the LDK and PDK, which helped to defeat the LVV in Prishtina and Prizren.

The Speaker of the Parliament, the LVV’s Glauk Konjufca, said that this had been a surprising result while giving his explanation for why the LVV lost these elections.

“In the local elections, the LVV received an unexpected result; our projections were that we would win more municipalities. I think that the main reason has to do with the LVV’s lack of development in local politics. I think this is the main factor of such an outcome. Since its establishment, the LVV has dealt with national issues starting with the Ahtisaari plan, the UNMIK presence, the problematic Dialogue with Serbia, then corruption and justice in Kosovo, and the fight against organised crime. These are national level topics, and the main figures of the LVV, from Albin downwards, have been more focused on Prishtina and the national level,” said Konjufca.