Voting is underway in Kosovo with security and the province’s long-term future at stake.
Nominally part of Serbia and Montenegro, this impoverished part of Europe has been under international administration since NATO’s intervention in 1999 and these are the second elections to be held since then. Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population, want independence but the Serbs want Kosovo to remain part of Serbia. There are fears the vote could be boycotted by the Serb community which wants greater guarantees of security and representation. NATO’s peacekeeping force has been reinforced in the run-up to the election amid fears of a repeat of ethnic violence in March which left 19 people dead and hundreds of homes in ruins. In total, 33 parties are competing for places in the 120 seat parliament, with ten seats reserved for the Serb minority and a further ten earmarked for other ethnic groups. Former guerilla leader Hashim Thaci leads the Democratic Party of Kosovo and is expected to win up to a third of seats. His main rival is the province’s current president, Ibrahim Rugova, who heads the Democratic League of Kosovo. He is widely expected to win the backing of much of the Albanian population. The ballot comes ahead of UN-brokered talks on Kosovo’s future status and is seen as a test of the international community’s ability to build mutli-ethnic democracy in a province dominated by mainly ethnic Albanians.