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Less than a year after he was pushed out as Kosovo’s prime minister, under heavy pressure from the Trump administration, Albin Kurti is poised for a big comeback in a nationwide election on Sunday.
Kurti’s governing coalition fell apart in March 2020 after less than two months when a junior partner pulled its support. That came after the U.S. publicly undermined Kurti for resisting a push from the Trump White House toward a quick peace deal with Serbia.
The subsequent Kosovan government signed up to closer relations with Belgrade at a White House ceremony overseen by Trump last September. Trump trumpeted the deal during his re-election campaign, although many regional experts dismissed it as light on substance and generally underwhelming.
Now Kurti looks set to sweep back into power thanks to Sunday’s parliamentary election. His Movement for Self-Determination (LVV) is on course to win by a landslide, according to polls.
Kurti and his allies are running on a platform of cracking down on corruption by replacing the political class that has dominated power since NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign ended Serb rule over Kosovo.
The surge in public support for Kurti is also down to lingering frustration over his ouster last year.
“The government being brought down was deeply disappointing,” said Tringa Avdyli, 29, a Kosovo expat living in the U.S. who has been going door-to-door to help people register to vote from abroad. “Citizens are tired of being told how we should feel and what we should be ok with. We have reached a boiling point that transcends even Kurti and party loyalties.”
In Kosovo, too, young people — fueled by resentment over the events of last year — are playing a key role in encouraging people to turn out to participate in Sunday’s election.
“People are ready for this political moment to happen,” said Avdyli.
Kurti, who was known for years as a prominent opposition figure before his party came first in a general election in October 2019, is also benefiting from his “very long presence on the scene” and an image of “consistency,” said Arun Chaudhary, the Kurti campaign’s American strategic communications manager.
Kurti is running alongside Vjosa Osmani, the country’s acting president and one of Kosovo’s most prominent women in politics. She rose in the ranks of the country’s oldest political party — the Democratic League of Kosovo — prevailing over the well-established technocrats who had dominated it for decades. She also garnered wide support as an independent player in parliament, often speaking against her own party.
After the collapse of Kurti’s government last year, Osmani left the Democratic League of Kosovo and formed an electoral coalition with LVV, leading her own list of independent candidates.
“The partnership between Kurti and Vjosa Osmani is extremely important and gives this election a different flavor,” said Chaudhary. “The two of them together sends a strong visual message to young Kosovars, and might encourage even undecided or grumpy voters to support them.”
Should Kurti and Osmani win the election, they would offer a contrast to other leaders in the Balkans, who have held power for decades and are widely accused of corruption and cronyism.
“I do recognize a lot of enthusiasm in the region for these elections,” said Vjosa Musliu, assistant professor of political science at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. “With Osmani and Kurti we see a novel approach to what it means to be responsible for the public interest.”
Yet Kosovo’s future and its politics continue to be tied up with solving its ongoing disputes with Serbia, a delicate and complicated process that may not be well-suited to Kurti’s confrontational style. An EU-sponsored dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia has made little progress for years.
“For Brussels it is far more convenient to have a profile unlike Kurti lead the dialogue, because I don’t see Kurti being very amenable to certain concessions or to the lack of clarity that has defined the dialogue in the past,” said Musliu.
Others say his proposed quick-fix solution for corruption — simply remove those at the top from power and let the effects trickle down — may be too simplistic to solve the country’s most endemic problem.
“The danger is that this rhetoric could backfire if they come to power and within four years this grand narrative of tackling corruption may not pan out,” said Musliu.