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Monday, 30 October, 2000, 22:10 GMT
Analysis: Kosovo chooses normality
Elections official emptying ballot box
Elections have brought victory for moderate Ibrahim Rugova
By Tim Judah

According to preliminary results from the first free election in Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) will be the largest single party in the province.

His party has done even better than expected, sweeping the board in most municipalities.

Ibrahim Rugova
Kosovars saw no reason to vote against Rugova
Like all the other Albanian parties contesting the election, the LDK is in favour of unconditional independence from Yugoslavia of which it remains, legally, if not for the moment in reality, a part.

The LDK's two main rivals at the polls were the two big parties to have emerged from the former guerrilla group, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

The larger of the two especially, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, (PDK) led by Hashim Thaci, had expected to do well based on the fact that it claimed the mantle of the KLA and its fallen fighters.

It pointed to the fact that by launching a war against the Serbs in February 1998 they had in effect managed to subcontract Nato to eject Serbian rule from the province.

Mr Thaci's party pointed out that Mr Rugova's period as undisputed leader of the Kosovo Albanians from 1989 to 1998 and his policy of passive resistance to the Serbs had failed.

Disgust for KLA

Many Kosovars might agree with this assessment, but nonetheless they saw no reason not to vote for the LDK now.

This showed two things. Firstly that they believed that Mr Rugova and his party are now better placed to achieve Kosovo's independence.

Secondly, that their admiration for the KLA had turned to disgust at the way in which many of its former commanders have, since the end of the war in June 1999, used their positions to seize businesses and property and even murder anyone they believed was standing in their way.

Lady queueing to vote in Kosovo polls
Voters have turned against the former KLA
The tumbling reputation of the former KLA was to have a disastrous effect on the PDK because of the perceived overlap between its political leadership and post-KLA organised crime.

The families of both Mr Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj, the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), the second important party to emerge from the KLA, are both widely believed to have links to organised crime.

Low-key campaign

After almost a decade of repression, 16 months of war including expulsion or flight for many, and now 17 months of relative lawlessness since the end of the conflict, the vote for Rugova is a vote not just for independence since, in effect, all votes were for independence, but it is above all a vote for normality.

Oddly, Mr Rugova - who only began to campaign late - found that his best strategy was neither to say nor do very much from June 1999 on.

In fact, until recently, he has been virtually invisible from Kosovo's political stage. So many of the votes he received were not for him as much as they were against the former KLA.

In the short term, it will be important to see if men installed in power in local municipalities by the KLA now give up their jobs to the new elected authorities.

In the medium term, the importance of the poll is that it shows who holds the confidence of Kosovo's Albanians - an important consideration when it comes to listening to what Kosovars want in the run up to parliamentary and presidential elections to be held next year.

Relations with Belgrade

Serbian voters boycotted the poll and Vojislav Kostunica, the new President of Yugoslavia, has said he does not recognise the result.

He has said he wants to re-establish Yugoslav sovereignty in Kosovo, something rejected by all Kosovo Albanians.

While diplomats and officials from the UN administration in Kosovo may believe that a compromise for Kosovo's future might be easier to work out with Mr Rugova, in fact, his election may make little difference.

If, in the future, he is seen as being soft on Belgrade this might give the post-KLA hardliners just the opportunity they need to make a comeback.

Tim Judah is the author of Kosovo: War and Revenge published by Yale University Press.

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See also:

21 Sep 00 | Europe
The Kosovo factor
30 Oct 00 | Europe
Profile: Ibrahim Rugova
20 Oct 00 | Europe
Belgrade changes worry Kosovo
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