Kosovo parliament names new government after months of crisis


Pristina (AFP)

Kosovo named a new government Wednesday after months of political turmoil in the former Serbian province, casting out left-wing leader Albin Kurti and raising tensions with his supporters.

The new government was cobbled together by Kurti's former coalition partner, the centre-right LDK, which quit the alliance in March, plunging Kosovo into a leadership crisis in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

The LDK's Avdullah Hoti, a 44-year-old former finance minister, was endorsed as prime minister to lead a new ruling coalition with 61 votes from the 120-member parliament.

"I feel responsible to the deputies, to the citizens and to the constitution for the tasks that await us," he told the assembly.

He stressed he would focus on advancing talks with Serbia, a relationship still fraught with tension since the 1990s war that led Kosovo to declare its independence.

But the vote has outraged supporters of Kurti's nationalist-leftist Vetevendosje party, who have been carrying out "rehearsal" demonstrations in recent weeks and warned that full-blown "protests are becoming unavoidable."

They have been demanding new elections to form a new government, accusing rivals of "stealing" their vote for Vetevendosje in October polls.

"What they are doing is against the will of the people. That doesn't lead to good. That's why we need to protest," said Rina Gusalci, 30-year-old civil society activist who was among a small crowd of protesters gathered outside parliament.

According to April polling by UNDP, Kurti enjoyed high levels of public support with 65.4 percent expressing satisfaction with his work compared to 20.7 percent for his predecessor Ramush Haradinaj in November.

- 'Deepen instability' -

Vetevendosje's first-place finish in the October election was hailed as a historic moment for Kosovo, pushing out the former rebel fighters who have dominated the political scene since its independence from Serbia in 2008.

But with only a narrow margin of victory, Kurti was forced to ally with LDK to form a ruling coalition.

The honeymoon didn't last long with LDK launching a no-confidence motion in March, in part because of heavy US pressure on Kurti to relax his policies towards Belgrade.

Kurti has accused Washington, and his top rival President Hashim Thaci, of working in tandem to remove him from power in order to push through a deal with Serbia -- which both deny.

Serbia still rejects Kosovo's independence and both are under Western pressure to strike an accord and resolve disputes that linger 20 years after their war.

The EU congratulated Kosovo's new government, an alliance between the LDK, two former opposition groups and parties representing ethnic minorities.

The bloc called for a "swift resumption" of EU-led negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade.

Yet Arben Hajrullahu, a political science lecturer at the University of Pristina, said he expected domestic tensions to rise in a divided society.

"All indicators show that instability and the political crisis, as well as the economic one, will only deepen," he told AFP.