Kosovo holds historic election

Kosovo
voters headed to the polls Sunday in the country’s first parliamentary election
since unilaterally declaring independence from Serbia almost three years ago.

The
ethnic Albanian majority and small Serb minority remain largely estranged, more
than a decade after a Nato-led conflict broke Belgrade’s control.

Serbia
has not recognised Kosovo’s independence and most Serbs are expected to boycott
the elections.

The
European Union says the election is important for Kosovo’s hopes of entry.

During
the campaign, institutionalised corruption and the dire state of Kosovo’s
economy have consistently topped lists of voter concerns.

Opinion
polls have suggested that the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) of the outgoing
prime minister, Hashim Thaci, was in the lead but is unlikely to win an
outright majority.

Its
former junior coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), is
mounting a strong challenge.

An
early election had to be called after the LDK pulled out of Mr Thaci’s
government in October in a row over its then leader, Fatmir Sejdiu, who was
also Kosovo’s president.

After
Mr Sejdiu stepped down as president, he was ousted from the LDK leadership by
the mayor of Pristina, Isa Mustafa.

Another
party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, has been weakened because its
leader, former rebel Ramush Haradinaj, is being retried by the UN war crimes
tribunal in The Hague.

Among
Kosovo’s most daunting challenges are an unemployment rate of 45 per cent –
even higher among young people – and one of the weakest economies in Europe.

While
recognised by many Western countries, Kosovo is still not a member of the UN
and its ethnic Albanian majority are under pressure to show they can build
peaceful relations with the Serb minority.

Serbs
now only number around 120,000 out of Kosovo’s population of two million.

The
vast majority of Serbs continue to live in enclaves guarded by Nato-led
peacekeepers, and many are concentrated in the north, between the divided town
of Mitrovica and the Serbian border.

Posters
in Mitrovica have been calling on Serbs to boycott the election. “No to
elections in the false state of Kosovo,” reads one.

The
US ambassador in Kosovo, Christopher Dell, has warned that an attempt to
partition the north could spark renewed ethnic violence across the region,
according to a series of secret diplomatic cables released by the Wikileaks
website
on Thursday.

WORLDstory

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci faces a strong challenge.
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