The winner of Kosovo's first election since independence – most likely Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's party – faces a tough time ahead, say observers.
Election officials say Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won 33.5 per cent based on preliminary results. But the ballot was marred by allegations of corruption and election fraud, and ethnic Serbs in Kosovo's north boycotted the vote.
On Tuesday allegations surfaced that Thaci had led a "mafia-like" network involved in trafficking in human organs. The accusations were made in a draft report by Swiss Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty. (see sidebar)
Analysts say the PDK will have a difficult time building a government, especially as the other three biggest parties refuse to join a Thaci-led coalition.
“The PDK is in a bad position and will have to form a wide coalition with minorities; it’ll be an interesting political configuration but not easy to manage,” Bashkim Iseni, a political scientist from Neuchâtel University, told swissinfo.ch.
“But the upshot is a stronger opposition and greater political awareness by the population – this is an interesting test of democracy for Kosovo.”
The constitution reserves 20 seats for minorities, ten for Serbs (the biggest minority), and ten for others. The most likely to collaborate with Thaci are two small parties that finished third and fourth in the voting.
André Liebich, professor of international relations at the Geneva-based Graduate Institute, was circumspect about the proliferation of new parties: “Is this democracy thriving or is Kosovo becoming increasingly ungovernable?”
While the PDK came out on top, other parties and independent monitors have complained of irregularities in two Thaci bastions where turnout was more than 90 per cent.
Kosovo's second-largest party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), trailed with 23.6 per cent and challenged the election results on Tuesday.
LDK president and Pristina Mayor Isa Mustafa told a news conference in the capital that “democracy has been violated”.
The German head of the European Parliament’s observation team, Doris Pack, said voting had been encouraging, but observers had been alerted to possible "serious fraud" in the central region of Drenica.
"I do not think it will undermine the whole process," she said, adding it was a "generally well-organised election day".
The US ambassador in Pristina, Christopher Dell, said he had seen irregularities in the town of Skenderaj: "The ballots in the box exceeded the number of signatures in the voters' book.”
Democracy in Action, a group of Kosovo non-governmental organisations with 5,000 observers, said it had also recorded "vote manipulation" in the two regions.
PDK officials have asked other parties to file complaints if they have proof that the vote was manipulated.
“We have lodged our complaint with the appropriate authorities and await their decision,” said Mustafa.
In Brussels, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fuele urged authorities to press ahead with forming a new government so that Kosovo can further advance in its goal to join the EU.
Thaci had described the elections as “a referendum on the European future of Kosovo”.
But the young state is getting left behind by its neighbours. This week Montenegro will gain official candidate status for the EU, and Bosnians and Albanians will win visa-free travel into Europe’s 25-member Schengen zone. Kosovars are now the only people left in this part of Europe who still need visas for the Schengen area.
Kosovo's new government will also have its plate full between trying to boost the ailing economy and launching new talks with Serbia, which does not recognise Kosovo's independence.
Many Kosovars have grown disenchanted and complain that living conditions have barely improved since 1999, the end of the Kosovo war. During the election campaign opposition parties blamed the ruling coalition for widespread corruption and a failure to address unemployment, estimated to be as high as 48 per cent.
Iseni said the new government’s main priority was to “create jobs and a framework to encourage outside investment, especially from the diaspora”. It also has to work on the state of law and international recognition – Kosovo is recognised by only 72 UN nations.
Belgrade maintains that Kosovo is a part of Serbia. Partition was a strong campaign issue, with analysts and diplomats anxious to see how many Kosovo Serbs had voted.
Ethnic Serbs in Kosovo's north, where they are a majority and refuse to recognise rule from Pristina, generally boycotted the vote. Meanwhile, turnout figures were high for Serbs living in southern and central enclaves surrounded by Albanians.
“What is quite extraordinary is that Serb politicians from Kosovo within the country participated actively in the vote, which shows that non-Albanian speakers are starting to identify themselves with Kosovo,” said Iseni.
The final election results are expected by Friday, December 17.
A draft report prepared by the Council of Europe and released on Tuesday says that Hashim Thaci was the head of a “mafia-like” network involved in dealing drugs, weapons and human organs.
Swiss human rights investigator Dick Marty is scheduled to present the report to European diplomats in Paris on Thursday.
Kosovo's government has denounced the report as baseless and defamatory.
"The government of Kosovo and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci will undertake all the necessary steps and actions to dismiss the slanders of Dick Marty, including legal and political means," the government said in a statement.end of infobox
KOSOVO AND SWITZERLAND
On February 17, 2008, the former Serbian province of Kosovo declared its independence.
The Swiss government recognised Kosovo as an independent state on February 27, 2008; it was one of the first countries to do so.
Since October 1999, the Swiss Armed Forces have been involved in the international peace support mission of the Kosovo Force (Kfor) with Swisscoy in Kosovo – short for Swiss Company.
Swisscoy is composed of up to 220 voluntary military personnel armed for self defence with pistols, assault rifles and riot agent spray generators.
There are around 270,000 Albanian speakers currently living in Switzerland, of whom 200,000 are thought to originate from Kosovo.
But only a minority of Kosovars in Switzerland are thought to have participated in Sunday’s elections in Kosovo as the participation deadline for Kosovars living abroad was very short.
Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up 92 per cent of the population of 2.2 million, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbs still dominate the north of the country.end of infobox
swissinfo.ch and agencies