Voters in Kosovo are heading to the polls on October 22 in an election to choose mayors and councilors in 38 municipalities, in another step in the young republic's effort to solidify its democratic credentials. Around 1.89 million people are ...and more »
Voters in Kosovo are heading to the polls on October 22 in an election to choose mayors and councilors in 38 municipalities, in another step in the young republic’s effort to solidify its democratic credentials.
Around 1.89 million people are registered to vote at 2,505 polling stations in 38 municipalities, with the mayor’s race in Pristina likely to be the most closely watched.
Many observers will be looking for any signs of ethnic tensions in the country, especially in the northern, Serb-majority regions.
Western-backed Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by 115 countries, although not by Belgrade or Moscow.
There are some 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo, and most of them oppose the Pristina authorities.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) has said that 27 of the municipalities have an ethnic-Albanian majority, 10 have ethnic-Serb majorities, and one is mostly ethnic Turkish.
The CEC said that the number of registered voters includes Kosovar citizens living abroad and is often larger than the actual population of Kosovo, currently about 1.81 million.
It reported a 10 percent turnout four hours into voting, lower than the 12 percent recorded at the same time in the 2013 local elections.
After casting her ballot in the capital, Pristina, CEC chief Valdete Daka called for fair and democratic elections and urged all registered voters to go to the polls.
She later said that the voting process was continuing normally and that no major irregularities had been reported.
The polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time and are due to close at 7 p.m.
Prolonged Political Instability
Democracy in Action, a nongovernmental organization, will have some 3,000 observers monitoring the election, Ismet Kryeziu, the group’s chief, told a news conference.
In Pristina, eight candidates are competing in the mayoral race, including incumbent Shpend Ahmeti of the nationalist Vetevendosje movement (VV).
Arban Abrashi, the minister of social welfare and a current member of parliament from the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), is also competing.
Earlier this year, Kosovo experienced a prolonged period of political instability created by inconclusive June elections.
The political gridlock eased in September when a coalition headed by the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the New Alliance for Kosovo (AKR), and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) agreed to form a government.
The deal gave the coalition, which also included ethnic-Serb and other non-Albanian minority parties, 63 of parliament's 120 seats.
President Hashim Thaci had said he would give Ramush Haradinaj, the leader of the AAK, a formal mandate to try to form a government once he could show he had a deal showing a majority coalition was in place.
Kosovo Police spokesman Baki Kelani told RFE/RL that early voting was moving smoothly.
"Creating a peaceful and secure climate for all citizens of the Republic of Kosovo, as well as maintaining order, peace, and public security in the country before, during, and after the election is the Kosovo police's [priority]," according to the country’s police chief, Shpend Maxhuni.
Police said they had confiscated an explosive device from a bus entering Kosovo from Serbia via the Jarinje border crossing point on October 22.
According to Besim Hoti, deputy police commander for the municipality of North Mitrovica, the bus with a Serbian number plate was carrying 50 people.
Hoti told RFE/RL that two hand bombs and two electric detonators were found in the bus during security checks at the border crossing.
He said police were questioning one of the drivers and two other people in connection with the incident.
With reporting by BalkanInsight