From: Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
48 Hours with Vetëvendosja LVV's victory celebration on Mother Theresa Square. Photo by Elvis Kazazi.

During the June 2017 elections, Lëvizje Vetëvendosje (LVV) became the largest political party with 27.49% of the vote and 32 seats in Parliament. The party, however, was excluded from the government by a hastily formed coalition led by then Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. During the local election in November of the same year, LVV again became the largest party, winning the mayorship in the two largest cities, Prizren and the capital Prishtina.

The year 2018 turned out eventful for the party, with 12 MPs of LVV breaking off to form an independent group in Parliament, following the resignation of Visa Ymeri as party chairman. Also Shpend Ahmeti, mayor of Prishtina, left the party. The independent group subsequently merged with the Social-Democratic Party, electing Ahmeti as party leader. Meanwhile in LVV, founder Albin Kurti returned as chairman.

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On Saturday I left for Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo, to meet some of the volunteers, activists, and politicians involved in LVV’s election effort, and to learn more about the party that recently also opened a branch in Albania, a move that may potentially be a game changer in the ossified Albanian political landscape.

I encountered LVV for the first time in 2010, when my holiday in Kosovo coincided with a visit of then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Prishtina. While a crowd surrounded the international compound to catch a glimpse of her motorcade, graffiti all around the city showed a less uncritical response to the international involvement in Kosovo: “EULEXperiment,” “I vote, you vote, he votes, we vote, you vote, they rule,” and “no negotiations, self-determination!” Another great invention was to spray-paint an “F” and “D” around the “UN” signs on the white SUVs of the international organization, forming the word “FUND,” meaning “end.”

Nearly ten years later, I found myself at a local LVV office in Velania, a neighborhood of Prishtina. During the evening of this day of “electoral silence,” the office, which doubled as a cozy living room furnished with chairs, couches, and tables filled with drinks and finger food, slowly filled up with candidate MPs, grassroots activists, and supporters celebrating the end of the campaign.

A young organizer of the diaspora, Arbër Aliu, who had flown at his own expense from Germany, held a moving speech about the origins of his own political awakening, and a word of welcome was extended by Haki Abazi, a sustainable development expert and no. 8 on the LVV list. His seat in the next Parliament is virtually guaranteed, but it is the performance of the entire party that will be the focus of the next day. Will they lead the next government?

The national, that is, Albanian anthem was sung, after which songs from all Albanian regions became interspersed with conversations on the future of the country and the region.

I was particularly interested in LVV’s plans to possibly expand to the Albanian political arena, and asked Abazi about his views on the matter. Much will depend on the performance of LVV during the elections, he said. When LVV wins, this could provide a platform to showcase policies and approaches that may also be a model for Albania. However, he added, the contrast between the Albanian and Kosovar political contexts is considerable. The state apparatus of Kosovo, Abazi suggested, does not suffer the same level of criminal capture as in Albania, and the political scene is less polarized, with a stronger tradition of coalition governments. The Albanian population, as a result, would be much more desensitized to politics. Another distinction is that in Kosovo the diaspora is allowed to vote, in Albania they can’t (yet).

Nonetheless, the entrance of LVV on the Albanian political scene would be no doubt an important development, especially in view of the rut in which the current opposition finds itself after the single-party local elections of June 30.

Exhausted from the campaign, the guests gravitated to their beds around midnight, to get some rest before the day of the elections.

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The next evening, an hour before the closing of the polls, I joined Abazi at the top floor of the Sirius Hotel to watch the exit polls and vote counting. By 9–10 o’clock reasonably definitive results are expected, as vote counting here proceeds a bit more rapidly than in Albania.

At 7 o’clock, the first exit poll presented by Klan Kosova showed LVV and fellow opposition party Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) head to head at the rather incredibly precise number of 30,00%, no doubt an attempt to hook viewers to their televisions for the rest of the evening. The mood around our table was bullish, with expectations going in the direction of 35%.

When Abazi left for the LVV headquarters we returned home to watch the results come in on television. The first results showed a lead for the LDK, but around 21:15 LVV started to creep from a 1% lag to 0,1%. Around 22:00 LVV passes the LDK, and doesn’t give up its lead for the rest of the evening. The former government party Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) loses big and comes in third. They concede defeat and announce to take place in the opposition benches.

Around 11:30, with around 80% of the counted people start to gravitate toward Skënderbeg Square, where finally, around 00:15 LVV chairman Albin Kurti and other party leader join on a stage surrounded by mainly Albanian, but also German and US flags. Kosovar flags are notably absent. Amid slogans “Behörde, Behörde, nuk është shtet [Government, government, is not a state],” “Albin, ti ku je, krejt Kosovën k’tu e ke [Albin, where are you, all Kosovo is here for you],” and “Hajnat në burg [Thieves to jail],” Kurti announced LVV’s victory as the “third wave” for Kosovo, after the liberation in 1999 and declaration of independence in 2008, promised justice and equality, and thanked his supporters.

At the moment I write this (1:00), with 93.25% of the national vote counted (but excluding the important diaspora vote, which will be counted in the coming days), LVV has won with 25.80% of the vote, with LDK coming second at 24.94%. The diaspora vote is expected to further widen that gap.

When the LVV will lead a government with Kurti at its head, this will have no doubt profound consequences for the region, not in the least for Albania. Not only will a bully pulpit in Kosovo help LVV increase its presence in Albania and possibly jumpstart a new opposition movement, Kosovo will also be ruled by a party that will not shirk from reminding Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama about his half-hearted commitments to the cause of Albanian across the border. So if all goes well in the coming weeks, interesting times may very well be ahead of us.