PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s parliament voted in a new prime minister Wednesday to lead a fragile coalition government that will inherit the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and stalled normalization talks with neighboring Serbia.
Lawmakers voted 61-24 with one abstention to approve the nomination of Avdullah Hoti, 44, of the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK. Members from the left-wing Self-Determination Movement, or Vetevendosje!, party that had been governing Kosovo did not attend the vote.
By securing the lowest possible number of votes in the 120-seat parliament, Hoti replaces Acting Prime Minister Albin Kurti, whom the LDK party overthrew with a no-confidence vote in late March when it was part of Kurti's coalition government.
A small number of Vetevendosje! supporters protested outside the parliament building.
Hoti’s party came in second behind the Vetevendosje! in an October snap election. To form the new Cabinet approved Wednesday, LDK joined forces with two smaller ethnic Albanian parties, the ethnic Serb minority party and other minority lawmakers.
Hoti, an economics professor, said his government aimed to collect 1.2 billion Euros ($1.4 billion) from the national budget and international resources to counter the negative impact of the pandemic on Kosovo's economy.
Resuming the internationally facilitated dialogue over ties with Serbia remains a top challenge. The talks stalled in November 2018 after government then running Kosovo set a 100% tariff on Serb imports.
Hoti did not say whether he would reverse a “reciprocity” standard Kurti introduced that as of Sunday required Serbian authorities to apply the same documentation standards for their exported goods to Kosovo as they require for Kosovar goods entering their country.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic described Kosovo’s new rules as “insane,” adding that his country was losing a million euros per day, according to state broadcaster RTS.
Hoti said the United States and the European Union both should be involved in the normalization talks and help guarantee the implementation of any deal that comes out of them.
“We believe the dialogue with Serbia to achieve the overall agreement, based on the reciprocal recognition of the two countries, is of vital interest for Kosovo,” Hoti said.
The United States and the European Union repeatedly have called on Kosovo and Serbia to resume dialogue.
Both EU leaders and the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo's capital of Pristina welcomed the new government.
“The EU-facilitated dialogue is the only way to turn Kosovo’s European future into a reality for its citizens,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said in a statement.
Kosovo was part of Serbia until an armed uprising in 1998-1999 by the ethnic Albanian majority population triggered a bloody Serb crackdown. A NATO bombing campaign to force Serbia's troops out of Kosovo ended the war.
Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Ivana Bzganovic contributed from Belgrade.