Kosovo MPs voted on Thursday to dissolve parliament and trigger early elections, a shake-up that will add new delays to the deadlocked dialogue with former foe Serbia.
The vote comes after outgoing premier Ramush Haradinaj, a former commander of ethnic Albanian rebels who battled Serbia in the late 1990s, stepped down in July after he was summoned to a special court in The Hague, which is investigating crimes from that era.
Since his resignation, parties have agitated for a snap poll, with some already kicking off unofficial campaigning and talking about possible alliances.
“The parliament decided to dissolve the sixth legislature of the assembly,” speaker Kadri Veseli said after 89 lawmakers in the 120-member body voted in favour of the motion. There were 106 MPs present for the vote.
The president will now be required to schedule an election with 45 days.
The political jostling comes as Kosovo is at an impasse with Serbia, which still rejects the former province’s independence declaration in 2008.
While most of the Western world recognises Kosovo, Serbia and its allies China and Russia do not, effectively shutting it out of the UN.
New elections will put the EU-led talks on hold for longer, with a planned summit in September likely to be postponed.
After Kosovo’s last parliamentary election in 2017, it took several months to form a government.
Earlier this week Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he expects negotiations to only resume “in early December, at best” because of Kosovo’s possible election.
A new government could, however, offer an opening if it were to revoke the 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods that Haradinaj put in place last November.
That move enraged Belgrade and brought the talks to a grinding halt.
Haradinaj has refused to bend to heavy pressure from the EU and US to lift the trade barrier, which Serbia says is a requisite for returning to the table.
Political analyst Arton Muhaxhiri says he expects the Serbia dialogue to be at the forefront of any new government formation.
“A lot of time has been wasted, and a government that does not have a positive approach to the dialogue with Serbia will not be allowed,” he told AFP.
“The whole region suffers from the delay of dialogue in Brussels”.
– Power shake-up –
Analysts say the election — Kosovo’s fourth since its independence — could shake up the power balance in the fragile democracy.
The parliament was previously dominated by the so-called “war wing” — a coalition of parties led by former war-time leaders like Haradinaj and President Hashim Thaci.
There has been talk of a challenge from a possible alliance between two opposition parties, the centre-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and left-wing nationalist Vetevendosje.
Though they have little in common ideologically, their pairing could push President Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) into the opposition for the first time in over a decade, said Ardian Collaku, a political analyst.
That “would be healthy for democracy in the country,” he told AFP.
Observers say it is also too early to rule out a comeback from Haradinaj.
The 51-year-old has said he would return to politics if he is not indicted by the court.
It wouldn’t be the first time — he was previously tried and acquitted twice for war crimes by a different UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, before going on to become prime minister for a second term in 2017.
Now he faces a court created in 2015 to investigate crimes allegedly committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanian political opponents during and after the 1998-99 war.
Haradinaj, who insists on his innocence, commanded guerrillas in the Western Kosovo region of Dukagjin, where heavy fighting and abuse of civilians occurred on both sides.
The war claimed more than 13,000 lives, the vast majority ethnic Albanians.
Numerous Serb leaders have been convicted of committing crimes against humanity during the conflict, which was the final war in Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse.