PRISTINA (AFP) - Kosovo’s government was toppled by a no-confidence vote Wednesday (March 26) less than two months after coming to power, plunging the unstable democracy into political uncertainty as it tries to halt the spread of coronavirus.
The vote ends a brief and bumpy alliance between two former opposition parties who took power last month with a mandate to loosen the grip of an old guard that has held sway over Kosovo for more than a decade.
The partnership quickly broke down with the junior partner in the coalition, the centre-right LDK, initiating the motion after weeks of tension with Prime Minister Albin Kurti, leader of the left-wing Vetevendosje party.
After nearly 12 hours of debate, 82 MPs in the 120-member assembly voted in favour of the motion of no confidence.
President Hashim Thaci, whose party lost in the last elections, now has the power to give Mr Kurti – his political enemy – another chance to form a government or call a new poll.
The tumult has outraged citizens who want their leaders to focus on combating the coronavirus, which has killed one person and infected at least 70 among the population of 1.8 million.
Doctors warn that a swell of cases could overwhelm Kosovo’s underfunded and understaffed hospitals.
Before the parliamentary session began, one citizen breached partial lockdown orders to raise a banner at the entrance that read: "The most dangerous pandemic in Kosovo is politics. Shame!"
Unable to protest on the streets because of coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, Pristina residents have been clanging pots and pans every evening from their terraces in a show of anger over the political squabbling.
The LDK announced their move after Mr Kurti sacked one of their ministers last week, a final straw following weeks of concern that he was jeopardising Kosovo’s relationship with the US, its most important ally.
Mr Kurti, however, alleges that he is the victim of a plot by President Thaci, a man who has kept himself at the centre of politics for over a decade.
Speaking to the assembly ahead of the vote, Mr Kurti accused Mr Thaci of dividing his coalition in a bid to regain power and finish a "secret" US-backed deal with Serbia that would involve border changes.
Serbia still refuses to recognise the independence declared by Kosovo, a former province who broke away in a 1998-99 war.
With EU-led talks between the neighbours going nowhere fast, a new US envoy appointed by President Donald Trump has recently been working with Mr Thaci to bring about a detente.
For weeks Washington has been putting immense pressure on Mr Kurti to drop a tariff on Serbian goods that is now the main obstacle to the negotiations.
Even after the US suspended some US$50 million (S$72.41 million) in economic aid in anger, Mr Kurti has agreed only to gradually lift measure, and has made clear he doesn’t want Mr Thaci in charge of talks with Serbia.
The political chaos has revealed a growing divide between US and European policy in Kosovo.
While the US ambassador welcomed debate over the no-confidence motion, France and Germany spoke out against it, urging "political unity" to combat the health crisis.
On Twitter the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur on Kosovo, Ms Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, criticised the US response. "How can you an ambassador be pleased to see a functional government tumbling in the #CoronaPandemic? Unbelievable. Irresponsible," she wrote on Twitter.