Kosovo’s left-wing main opposition party has registered a clear victory in an early election held amid the coronavirus pandemic, economic downturn and stalled negotiations with wartime foe Serbia.
With 98 percent of the votes counted on Monday, the Determination Movement Party had 48 percent support.
That left it far ahead of the centre-right Democratic Party of Kosovo, or PDK, which won 17 percent and the conservative governing Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, which captured 13 percent of the vote.
Voters in Sunday’s election came out despite a low temperature of minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) and snowfall.
The turnout was 47 percent, or 2.5 percent higher than the 2019 election, according to the Central Election Commission.
Determination Movement leader Albin Kurti, who is expected to become the next prime minister, faces the challenges of reviving the poor nation’s economy and reducing unemployment, as well as fighting the pandemic, organised crime and corruption.
“We won this referendum for justice and jobs, against state capture and corruption,” said Kurti late on Sunday. “Our priority is justice and jobs.”
The victory, however, may not give Kurti the required 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament to create a cabinet on his own.
He made it clear there would be no coalition with the main losing opponents.
Kosovo’s Serb minority has 10 seats in parliament and 10 other seats belong to other minorities.
Negotiations on normalising ties with Serbia, which stalled again last year after talks brokered by the United States and the European Union, did not figure high on the winning party’s agenda.
Kurti said forming a negotiating team for dialogue would not be a priority.
Independent analyst Donika Emini called on Kurti not to avoid the talks with Serbia but to “be more sensitive, more proactive” with Kosovo’s political group as well as the international community.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi urged Kosovo to soon form the new parliament, government and elect the president and advance reforms, pledging continuous support of Brussels.
“Kosovo’s European path also goes through the comprehensive normalization of relations with Serbia,” their statement said.
Kosovo is seeking to eventually enter the 27-nation EU and has signed with Brussels a stabilisation agreement, the first step towards membership.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, 10 years after a brutal 1998-99 war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces.
The war ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign drove Serb troops out and peacekeeping forces moved in.
Most Western nations have recognised Kosovo, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China do not. Tensions over Kosovo remain a source of volatility in the Balkans.
Within two months of taking their seats, Kosovo’s MPs must elect the country’s president. If no candidate is elected after three rounds of voting, the country could be forced to hold another early parliamentary election.