PRISTINA – MPs elected Kosovo’s most popular politician Vjosa Osmani as president on Sunday, overcoming an opposition boycott that had kept parliament short of a quorum a day earlier.
The 38-year-old charismatic leader received backing from the parliament in a vote boycotted by a Serb party. Ex-President Hashim Thaci vacated the post in November after being charged with war crimes.
Osmani received 71 votes from the 82 lawmakers present in the 120-seat parliament.
While the president’s duties are largely ceremonial, Osmani will now be the commander of the country’s armed forces and also serve as one of the country’s top diplomatic representatives.
Who is Vjosa Osmani?
Osmani started her carrier as a teenage activist. She studied law in Pristina and then completed her master’s and bachelor’s degrees at the US University of Pittsburgh.
The politician was one of the senior officials of the Democratic League of Kosovo (DLK) party. However, Osmani was ousted from the organization following inter-party strife.
She remained an immensely popular figure, securing over 300,000 votes as a Vetevendosje candidate at the February election.
Osmani is also seen as a role model for women in the mostly patriarchal Balkan country.
Unlike Prime Minister Kurti, Osmani said it was a priority for her to resume the stalled normalization talks with Serbia.
Officially, Belgrade still views Kosovo as a Serbian province and rejects its 2008 declaration of independence.
On Sunday, Osmani once again called for dialogue, but also called on Belgrade to apologize for the 1990s conflict and persecute war criminals.
“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,” she said.
She is Kosovo’s second female leader following Atifete Jahjaga, who served as president between 2011 and 2016.
Why is Osmani succeeding Hashim Thaci?
The position became vacant in November after Hashim Thaci resigned over war crimes charges. Osmani, who previously served as the speaker for Kosovo’s 120-seat parliament, took over the presidential role provisionally ahead of the Sunday vote.
Thaci, like most Kosovar politicians, built his reputation on his wartime record, fighting as a guerrilla commander against Serbian armed forces.
The war culminated with the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, which forced Belgrade to pull back its police and military from Kosovo.
With the backing of the US and other Western countries, Kosovo declared independence, but Russia, China, and several other EU countries do not recognize it as an independent state.
The country remains mired in economic problems and political divisions, with tensions occasionally flaring up with Belgrade.
Both Osmani and Prime Minister Albin Kurti present themselves as part of the next generation of Kosovo politicians, professing more liberal values and pledging to tackle widespread corruption.
Kurti’s Vetevendosje party secured a resounding victory in the general election in February, but fell two seats short of an absolute majority in the parliament.
The Sunday vote is another step towards cementing the party’s dominance, as the country’s prime minister, the new parliamentary speaker, and the president are all from Vetevendosje.
The emergency of Osmani as Kosovo’s new president is an addition to soaring list of female leaders in the world.