Row over response to virus sees Kosovo's govt fall

Mr Albin Kurti will remain as Kosovo's caretaker Prime Minister until a new government is formed.
Mr Albin Kurti will remain as Kosovo's caretaker Prime Minister until a new government is formed.

BERLIN • The coronavirus crisis contributed for the first time to the collapse of a national government after a majority of lawmakers in Kosovo voted to bring down the country's ruling coalition, following a political dispute related in part to the pandemic.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti's administration fell on Wednesday after his main coalition partners sided with opposition parties in a no-confidence vote against their own government, defeating Mr Kurti by a vote of 82-32.

Mr Kurti will remain as caretaker Prime Minister until a new government is formed. But his government's collapse leaves Kosovo without strong leadership at a time when most other national governments are seeking to extend their powers to battle the pandemic.

The vote was welcomed by the United States, whose diplomats have placed Mr Kurti under heavy pressure since his government was sworn in last month because of his opposition to aspects of a US peace deal in the region.

But it was condemned by France and Germany, which issued a joint statement criticising the recklessness of bringing down a government during a pandemic.

The vote was partly the result of a recent row between Mr Kurti's party and its junior coalition partners about how to restrict daily life in the country of about 1.8 million in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

More than 60 people in Kosovo have tested positive for the virus and one person has died, said the World Health Organisation. To contain the spread of the virus, Mr Kurti implemented curbs on citizens' movement this week - but without enacting a state of emergency. His coalition partners supported enforcing a state of emergency that would have given greater power to Mr Kurti's political rival, President Hashim Thaci, who ordinarily plays a mostly ceremonial role in Kosovar life.

The vote also has drawn scrutiny to the Trump administration's diplomacy in the Balkans. Although the coronavirus was a major factor in its initiation, the no-confidence vote against Mr Kurti was also triggered by a much deeper disagreement about how to resolve a decades-old impasse between Kosovo and Serbia.

Before Mr Kurti entered office, the Trump administration had attempted to end the dispute by brokering a deal between Mr Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline 'Row over response to virus sees Kosovo's govt fall'. Print Edition | Subscribe