PRISTINA – Kosovo’s parliament on Monday approved a new government facing the challenges of managing the coronavirus as confirmed cases mount in the small Balkan country.
During a second extraordinary session, lawmakers voted 67-30 in favor of the Cabinet presented by Prime Minister Albin Kurti. The 17-member Cabinet includes six female ministers.
Kurti’s Self-Determination Movement, or Vetevendosje!, won the most votes in Kosovo's Feb. 14 parliamentary election, but the left-wing party still needed at least three votes of non-Serb minority parties to create a new Cabinet. Vetevendosje! won 58 of the parliament’s 120 seats.
Kurti named the coronavirus pandemic as his top challenge and pledged to secure vaccines for 60% of Kosovo's population this year. Kosovo is the only European country that has not started administering vaccines yet.
“The continuous anxiety of finding a job, paying the bills at the end of the month and up to securing food on the table has been heightened by the pandemic,” he said while presenting his government's proposed program.
Reviving Kosovo’s economy, including beating back unemployment, as well as managing the coronavirus pandemic, organized crime and corruption remain top challenges for the new government.
Negotiations to normalize ties between Kosovo and neighboring Serbia stalled again last year, and reviving them don’t figure high on Kurti’s agenda despite international pressure.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a brutal 1998-1999 war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces, which ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign that drove Serb troops out and a peacekeeping force moved in.
Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China don’t. Tensions over Kosovo remain a source of volatility in the Balkans.
Kurti said that dialogue was the only way to resolve the issues with Serbia, adding that finding the 1,640 people who remain missing from the war would be his top priority in any talks.
Kurti also said that Kosovo “will raise a penal suit for Serbia’s crime of genocide at the International Court of Justice.”
“Without recognizing the reality of an independent Kosovo and Serbia accepting such a truth, there would be no normalization of the ties between our two peoples and two states,” he said.
Kurti reiterated Kosovo's ambitions to join NATO and the European Union.
“The path toward integration into the EU could be challenging but there is no other alternative for Kosovo,” he said.
The EU, however, has made it clear that neither Kosovo nor Serbia can expect to become members until they resolve their rocky relationship.
A simple majority was needed to elect Kurti's government, compared with the much harder task of electing the new president, which should happen by May and requires a two-thirds majority.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.