June 8, 2017 / 5:37 PM / 2 months ago

Kosovars weary of politicians' promises in election run-up

Ramush Haradinaj (R), a candidate for Prime Minister, of the coalition of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commanders AAK, PDK and NISMA, speaks as he campaigns in Ferizaj, Kosovo June 5, 2017. Picture taken June 5, 2017.Hazir Reka

FERIZAJ, Kosovo (Reuters) - Safet Tasholli, 46, earns seven euros a day selling wrapping paper to burger vendors in the eastern town of Ferizaj and hopes to join the one million Kosovars who live and work abroad.

Promises made by political parties in the run-up to the June 11 election to improve the economy and increase salaries have not convinced Tasholli that his children would have a better future in Kosovo.

"If I had a chance I would leave with my bike to Europe, now, this minute," said Tasholli, who supports a family of six.

More than nine years since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, nearly one third of the population is unemployed while the average salary is around 300 euros a month.

But the country's growth remains strong mainly thanks to remittances from abroad which account for around 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The government of prime minister Isa Mustafa collapsed in a no confidence vote a month ago after the opposition accused it of failing to meet its pledges to improve the lives of Kosovo's 1.8 million people.

Agron Bajrami, editor in chief of Kosovo's leading newspaper Koha Ditore, said one month was not enough for political parties to prepare for the election.

"Not a single party had time to prepare a detailed plan and explain how economic growth will be reached," he said.

SWITZERLAND OF THE BALKANS

During the campaign, parties have promised economic growth of 8 percent a year and to raise public sector wages by up to 40 percent.

Kadri Veseli, president of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, told supporters: "Kosovo will be the Switzerland of the Balkans."

Opinion polls point to a coalition of parties run by the war-time commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) who fought Serb forces during the 1998-99 conflict.

Former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, a candidate to become PM again, said he would renegotiate a border deal with Montenegro, which the European Union sees as a condition to lifting visa-free travel for Kosovars.

Serbia, which considers Haradinaj a war criminal, says his election would slow the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, a pre-condition for both countries to progress towards EU membership.

Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo's independence and with its ally Russia is blocking its United Nations membership.

Besart Bojaj, 22, an architecture student from Klina, spent more than 200 euros to apply for a visa to Sweden and explore options to get a masters degree. His counterparts from Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania do not need a visa.

Kosovo is the only country in the region that does not have visa-free travel with the EU because of its failure to agree the border deal with Montenegro.

"We are treated as cows, we have enough to eat but no right to get out of the cage and see what is happening around us," said Bojaj.

Editing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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