As Kosovars head to the polls, a new generation of politicians is seeking to tap into widespread disillusionment.
Politicians in Kosovo elected and swore in a new president on Sunday for a five-year term, the Balkan nation’s seventh president, and second female leader, in the post-war period.
The 120-seat parliament, which convened in an extraordinary session for two days, gave 71 votes for Vjosa Osmani, a 38-year-old former parliamentary speaker, in the third round of voting, while 11 votes were invalid.
Two opposition parties and the ethnic Serb minority party boycotted the voting.
In November, Osmani temporarily replaced former President Hashim Thaci, an armed group leader during Kosovo’s war for independence from Serbia in the late 1990s, who resigned after facing charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity at a special court based in The Hague.
Osmani’s initial mandate expired when the new government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti, the left-wing Self-Determination Movement, or Vetevendosje, took over following the February 14 election.
Osmani had the backing of Vetevendosje, which won the early election in a landslide.
The party now holds the three top posts: the president, the speaker and the prime minister.
As president, Osmani will have largely a ceremonial post as the head of state. But she also has a leading position in foreign policy and is the commander of the armed forces.
In a speech, Osmani called for a dialogue aimed at normalising ties with Serbia, but said Belgrade must first apologise and prosecute those responsible for war crimes committed during the 1998-99 war that ultimately led to Kosovo becoming independent in 2008.
“Peace would be achieved only when we see remorse and an apology from Serbia and when we see justice for those who have suffered from their crimes,” Osmani said.
Kosovo is recognised by more than 100 countries but not by Serbia or Serbian allies like Russia and China.
Local media have described Osmani as “fearless” as she was among the first to boldly speak out about the ruling corrupt elite – not easy given the respect they earned by their wartime roles.
“Osmani has captured the hearts of many Kosovo citizens, as she is charismatic, confident and a 21st-century role model for women,” one law journal described the president recently.
However, her critics argue she lacks experience.
“Those who have pledged allegiance to Vetevendosje have nothing else to offer than criticism” and have a “basic lack of the knowledge necessary to govern,” said former head of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa, who quit due to his party’s poor electoral result.
But Osmani’s supporters have faith she will succeed in implementing badly needed reforms.
Born in the divided city of Mitrovica, Osmani studied at Pristina University, going on to teach there from 2006 and later earning a PhD in the United States.
She entered politics as an adviser of the then president Fatmir Sejdiu of the centre-right LDK.
An international law expert, Osmani was first elected to parliament in 2011 with the LDK and was the party’s candidate for prime minister in the 2019 parliamentary election.
But she quit the LDK as it entered into a coalition with former ethnic Albanian fighters gathered in the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).
Osmani is married and has twin daughters.