The people of Kosovo are preparing to take part in their first elections since the disputed state declared its own independence early last year.
Western officials there are keen to see the vote run smoothly and hope Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority will embrace tomorrow’s local ballot. Michele Giffoni is the Italian ambassador in Pristina and an EU facilitator in Northern Kosovo. He is confident many Serbs will want to make their vote count: “Municipal elections are a big challenge for Kosovo and also for the Serb community. In the south of the Ibar river there is reason for optimism now. A good percentage of Serb communities are deciding to vote,” he said. But many of Kosovo’s Serbs, who make up less than six percent of the population, have threatened to boycott the elections. Serbia has warned them that by voting they would be giving credibility to Kosovo’s claim to independence. Oliver Ivanovic, the Serbian State Secretary for Kosovo, believes the boycott will be widely respected. He told euronews: “There is no clear indication how many Serbs will participate, but bearing in mind our experience whenever Serbia is not inviting Serbs to participate, it is always a very low turnout. I cannot forecast exactly, but I’m quite sure there will not be more than five percent of registered Serbs (who vote.)” Tomorrow’s turnout figures should to some extent show whether ethnic Serbs have started to accept, albeit reluctantly, Kosovo’s claim to independence from Serbia.