Kosovo to hold early election after top court ruling

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the country must hold a new general election because parliament’s June confirmation of the Cabinet passed because of an invalid vote.

The court’s decision rendered invalid a vote by lawmaker Etem Arifi from the minority Ashkali Party for Integration. Arifi’s vote had given the government of Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti 61 votes in the 120-seat chamber.

The country’s president is now expected to announce the date of the election, which must take place within 40 days.

Acting President Vjosa Osmani began consulting Tuesday with party leaders for an election date, which will likely be at the end of January or early February under lockdown conditions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The court’s ruling was made as a result of a petition by 16 lawmakers from the opposition left-wing Self-Determination Movement. The party had been part of a short-lived coalition with Hoti’s Democratic League of Kosovo until June, but quit after a falling-out.

Hoti said he fully respected the court’s verdict and his Cabinet would be the acting government until a new one is installed.

Arifi was sentenced to 15 months in jail in August 2019 for illegally using 26,000 euros ($31,000) of public money given to a nongovernmental organization for personal profit. Nevertheless, he ran for the new parliament in October of the same year and was automatically elected to parliament as leader of a Roma minority party.

Arifi handed himself over to police in September and is now serving his sentence.

The United States embassy in the capital Pristina called on all parties and institutions in Kosovo to respect the Constitutional Court’s decision and to ensure “free, fair, peaceful elections.”

Kosovo split from Serbia after an armed uprising by the ethnic Albanian majority population in 1998-99. It declared independence in 2008 which Serbia refuses to recognize.

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