The people of Kosovo are being asked to elect a government tomorrow, knowing that the winning party is almost certain to declare the province’s independence from Serbia. Ninety percent of voters are ethnic Albanians keen to split from Belgrade. But the Serb minority has been encouraged by the Serbian government to boycott the election. Not that they need any encouragement, explains Oliver Ivanovic, a Kosovo Serb leader:
“Local fellows of Belgrade authorities are pressing the local people not to come out, not to appear on the polls. That pressure is not practically needed, because the people already feel concern that participation in elections can undermine the negotiating position of the Serbian delegation” said Ivanovic.
Kosovo has been run by the UN since the end of the conflict with Serbia in 1999. Negotiations on its final status must end by December 10. The main election candidates have said that if there is no agreement by that date, they will unilaterally declare Kosovo’s independence.
Leading in the polls is Hashim Thaci, a 39-year old former guerrilla commander who fought against Serb forces in the late 1990s.
Just behind him in the polls is current president Fatmir Sejdiu. His party has not yet recovered from the loss of its charismatic founder Ibrahim Rugova, who died of cancer almost two years ago. As the ruling party it also suffers from public frustration that independence has not yet materialised.
Construction tycoon Beghjet Pacolli could be the surprise package in the vote, after promising investment and jobs for the province’s desperately poor population.