By Fatjon Prroni
Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci was elected Friday president of Kosovo, as opposition protesters hurled Molotov cocktails outside the parliament and clashed with police in the capital Pristina.
Governing coalition MPs cast their votes after opposition MPs were sent out of the chamber. They threw tear gas canisters twice suspending the session in the parliament. Eleven opposition MPs were expelled for disturbances, some of which were accompanied by police forces.
“I will always work in the service of the country and in the service of citizens, respecting the constitution and respecting the country’s institutions,” Hashim Thaci said. “I will work to build a new Kosovo, a European Kosovo”.
Parliament Speaker Kadri Veseli said that Thaci will officially become president after taking oath in Parliament on April 7.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Thaci following the victory, and congratulated the newly elected president, according to an unnamed presidential source Friday.
Erdogan and Tachi also underlined the importance of developing relations between the two countries, the same source said.
The source was not named due to Turkish government protocol.
Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Hashim Thaci was running against fellow Democratic Party of Kosovo member Rafet Rama.
He failed to be elected in the first two rounds. In the third round, Thaci received 71 votes, 10 more than the 61 needed. Rama received no votes and ten votes were not valid. Eighty-one out of 120 Kosovo MPs cast their votes.
Thaci, who served as political leader of the guerrilla during the Kosovo War and was the first prime minister of the Republic from 2008 to 2014, replaces Atifete Jahjaga. He will serve a five-year mandate.
As MPs were voting in the first two rounds, clashes between protesters and police broke out outside parliament and in the streets. Protesters attacked police with stones and Molotov cocktails, while police responded with tear gas and water cannons. Local media said in its initial reports that many protesters had been arrested with at least 11 police officers and one protester injured.
Opposition forces have strongly opposed the vote, calling for the resignation of the government for “violating the constitution” over agreements with Serbia for the establishment of an “Association of Serbian-majority municipalities” in Kosovo.
Thousands of opposition protesters had gathered earlier Friday in downtown Pristina to oppose the presidential vote, calling for the government’s resignation and early elections.
Protesters’ anti-government and anti-Thaci chants were also heard inside the parliament during the discussions prior to the voting.
Following the announcement of Thaci's election, his supporters have been seen celebrating in the capital and the situation seems to have calmed down.
Kosovo opposition parties reject an agreement signed in August 2015 between Kosovo and Serbia granting more powers to Serbs in Kosovo.
They also oppose a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro.
Since then, the opposition have blocked the normal functioning of parliament and held regular anti-government protests.
Many opposition MPs have been arrested for throwing tear gas in parliament, causing the worst political crisis in the country since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Thaci’s election will possibly deepen the political crisis in the country, with opposition parties vowing not to step back until the government resigns.
Opposition parties – the nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) Movement, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and the Initiative for Kosovo – argue that this agreement will lead to what they call the “Bosniazation” of Kosovo, creating a dysfunctional state.
The Constitutional Court ruled in December last year that the agreement to establish an association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo contains “principles … not entirely in compliance with the respective constitutional standards”.
The 47-year-old Hashim Thaci served as political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the Kosovo War in 1998-1999.
He led the Kosovar delegation in the International Conference on Kosovo, held in Rambouillet, France in 1999, which opened the way for the NATO intervention against Serbia.
He served as prime minister of a unity government from March 1999 until January 2000. In 1999, Thaci established the Democratic Party of Kosovo and has led it up to now.
On Feb. 17, 2008, Prime Minister Thaci, read out the independence declaration in parliament declaring Kosovo an independent, sovereign and democratic state.
Kosovo is a former Serbian province populated by nearly 1.8 million people, over 90 percent of which are Kosovo Albanians.