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Coalition’s plan to split MP’s job between them is raising eyebrows in the region, where some believe the leaders’ main motive is financial.
Albanian leaders in the South Serbian border area are divided over whether to take part in the May 6 parliamentary elections.
They are also divided over the motives of those leaders who have decided pool resources to run for the Serbian parliament on May 6.
Four of a total of 11 local parties, movements and citizen groups assembling Albanians from the Presevo Valley have agreed to stand in the election under one banner, the Albanian Coalition from the Presevo Valley – sharing one MP’s seat if they win.
The region, on the border with Kosovo and Macedonia, is home to some 55,000 ethnic Albanians voters who form local majorities of the population in two municipalities, Bujanovac and Presevo.
Along with sitting MP Riza Halimi’s Party for Democratic Action, PDD, the coalition, which submitted its list of candidates to the Republic Election Commission on April 18, comprises the Movement for Democratic Progress, PDP, the Democratic Union of the Valley, DUD, and the Democratic Union of Albanians.
The coalition expects to win only one seat in Serbia’s parliament, which it will then rotate between the leaders of coalition parties over parliament’s four-year term.
By agreement, the duration of each leader’s stay in Belgrade will be proportionate to the number of votes his party won in the local elections, which are also scheduled for May 6.
Judging by the results of the last local elections in 2008, Halimi’s PDD and the PDP will sit in parliament for the longest.
The South Serbia region has a turbulent history. After the war in neighbouring Kosovo ended in 1999, clashes erupted in South Serbia between the Serbian security forces and Albanian insurgents assembled in the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac, OVPMB.
The conflict only ended through the mediation of NATO and the international community.
While Coalition leaders insist that their stay in Belgrade will be used to air the problems that Albanians face in this neglected corner of Serbia, some local analysts are doubtful that is their only motive.
They suspect the Coalition leaders hope to make financial gains from rotating the MP’s term in office, while some suggest it is the only real common denominator for the alliance’s member parties, all of whom have different platforms.
Driton Salihu, editor of the Presheva.com Internet portal, calls the coalition “an Albanian money-gaining group”, which has been brought together solely by mutual financial interest.
“My information from the Serbian parliament is that in 2011 Riza Halimi claimed 2 million dinars [20,000 euros] from parliament for salaries, per diem expenses, travelling expenses and other expenses,” Salihu says, adding that the average salary in South Serbia is about 250 euros a month.
He notes the fact that every MPs’ caucus, proportionate to the number of seats it has in parliament, gets monthly money from the state budget for expenses, which will be an opportunity for the members of the Coalition to improve their material status.
“This will mean a few thousand euros per month to which we should also add the MP’s salary which, with additional expenses, can amount to as much as 1,500 euros a month,” Salihu explained.
Coalition leaders insist they don’t care about the financial aspect of the job and only want the chance to present Albanian problems to the public.
Halimi says he has successfully represented Albanian interests in the parliament so far and plans to continue doing so in future.
“There are many problems that Albanians face. Development of the lagging economy and a struggle for fundamental human rights will be my main goal as an MP,” he said.
Jonuz Musliu, leader of the PDP and head of the municipal council in Bujanovac, says the Coalition will have a special team tasked with preparing their appearances in the Serbian parliament:
“I will talk about Albanian problems whenever the circumstances and the session agenda allow me to,” he said.
Musliu, a former commander of the disbanded OVPMB, adds that Albanian human rights in Serbia are endangered, and this will be the his main topic in parliament.
“I will advocate true freedom of movement, the demilitarisation of the region, official use of the Albanians’ native language and national symbols and a full amnesty for ex-OVPMB fighters,” Musliu said.
Skender Destani, leader of the Democratic Union of the Valley, DUD, opines that impoverished South Serbia’s economic development is the issue round which the whole coalition must assemble.
“New jobs and investments are a prerequisite to solving all the other problems,” he said. “It would be good for the Albanians if their representatives in parliament sent out a message of this kind.”
While Coalition parties prepare their agenda in Belgrade, other parties in the area are having nothing to do with the general election.
Presevo Mayor Ragimi Mustafa’s Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, and the youngest Albanian party, the Democratic Party, DP, led by the former mayor of Bujanovac, Nagip Arifi, will not be participating on May 6.
Mustafa has told his supporters to boycott the general election in protest against central government’s neglect of Albanian concerns.
“Albanians should link their interests to Pristina and Tirana, which is where they should seek solutions to their problems,” says Mustafa who advocates the region’s annexation to Kosovo, which proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008.
The Democratic Party, set up last summer by the dissatisfied members of Halimi’s PDD, will also not be taking part in the general election.
As the newest Albanian party, it wants to focus on winning power in the local election in Bujanovac.
“Although we won’t participate in the parliamentary election, we will be Belgrade’s partner if we win power locally,” Behluli said.
Under Serbian electoral legislation the threshold for parties to enter parliament is 5 per cent.
But a so-called “natural threshold” or “natural census” applies for parties representing ethnic minorities, obtained by dividing the number of voters who cast ballots by 250, that is, by the number of seats in the parliament.
In the 2007 and the 2008 elections, the Albanian Coalition from the Presevo Valley both times won around 17,000 votes, about 0.4 per cent of the total number of voters who cast ballots in Serbia, as a result of which Halimi sat as an MP for two mandates.
Kujtim Sadriu, local head of Cedomir Jovanovic’s Liberal Democratic Party, LDP, the only ethnic Albanian at the helm of a Belgrade-based political party in the area, agrees that the Coalition is built primarily on its leaders’ self-interests.
“In a few years Halimi will retire as an MP, while the MP’s mandate will provide the other leaders with a much-needed financial infusion,” Sadriu said.
This article is a result of BIRN Serbia project "Performance evaluation, step towards political accountability" supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, NED.
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