Kosovo Parliament Approves PM Haradinaj, Cabinet

The parliament of Kosovo has approved Ramush Haradinaj, the leader of the center-right Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) and a former guerrilla fighter, as the Balkan country’s new prime minister.

The 120-seat parliament endorsed Haradinaj’s appointment on September 9 with 61 votes in favor and one abstention. Opposition members boycotted the vote.

The parliament also approved Haradinaj’s cabinet, with the main ethnic Serb party, Sprska Lista, backing the new prime minister.

The moves led to optimism that a months-long political stalemate created by inconclusive June elections may be coming to an end in the Western-backed nation with a large ethnic-Albanian majority.

Haradinaj was nominated by President Hashim Thaci on September 7 to form a new government after his coalition struck an agreement with several smaller parties to give his bloc the majority needed to rule.

Under the coalition agreement, Sprska Lista will receive three ministry posts, while non-Albanian and non-Serbian communities will also receive ministries.

The key junior partner in the coalition, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), will receive a deputy prime minister post and six ministries. The PDK leader, Kadri Veseli, was elected speaker of the parliament on September 7.

Haradinaj's AAK gets three other ministries, while another junior partner, NISMA, will receive a deputy prime minister's portfolio and three ministries.

Behgjet Pacolli of the New Kosovo Alliance (AKR) will be foreign minister.

Pacolli, who also holds a Swiss passport, is widely considered the richest Kosovar. He made his money rebuilding state buildings in Moscow in the 1990s and has since moved his company to Kazakhstan from Russia.

A day earlier, the Pristina-based FOL think tank had criticized the prime ministerial nominee, saying that he had an "endless appetite" for creating ministry posts in order to satisfy the demands of all the coalition partners.

Reports said Haradinaj had set a total of five deputy prime ministers, 21 ministers, and some 50 deputy ministers.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Haradinaj pledged to maintain dialogue with former foe Serbia, saying "there is no alternative to dialogue with Serbia.”

Despite "a tragic history, we cannot change the fact that we are neighbors," Haradinaj told parliament.

The European Union has urged Pristina and Belgrade -- both with ambitions of joining the EU -- to normalize relations and is sponsoring talks in hopes of ending years of hostility.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia doesn't recognize the move.

Haradinaj, 49, has been arrested twice on a warrant from Serbia - in Slovenia in 2015 and in France earlier this year - but was released both times.

Haradinaj was also charged with war crimes, tried, and cleared twice by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

He served as prime minister for three months in 2005, but resigned to face the first trial.

With on reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, Bloomberg, AP, Balkan Insight, Reuters, dpa