Kosovo is holding an early parliamentary election to form a new government amid the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn and stalled negotiations with wartime foe Serbia.
Some 1.8 million eligible voters on Sunday started to cast their ballots in 2,400 polling stations. They're electing 120 lawmakers among more than 1,000 candidates from 28 political groupings. Some 100,000 Kosovars in diaspora are also eligible to vote by post.
Those infected by the coronavirus will be able to vote through mobile polling teams.
Reducing unemployment and fighting organized crime and corruption remain the biggest challenges.
Negotiations on normalizing ties with Serbia, which have stalled again last year after talks brokered by the U.S. and the European Union, have not figured high on any party’s agenda.
Political parties have failed to respect many of the virus control measures, including mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, limits on gatherings of no more than 50 people and an overnight curfew.
The election was scheduled after Kosovo’s Constitutional Court rendered invalid a vote by a convicted lawmaker that helped confirm the Cabinet of Acting Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti of the centre-right Democratic League of Kosovo.
That Cabinet was named in June after Albin Kurti of the left-wing Self-Determination Movement party was removed as prime minister.
The Serb minority has 10 seats and 10 others belong to other minorities.
The EU has sent an Elections Expert Mission to Kosovo to monitor the vote.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a brutal 1998-1999 war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces. The war ended in June 1999 after a 78-day NATO air campaign drove Serb troops out and a peacekeeping force moved in.
Most Western nations recognize the country, but Serbia and allies Russia and China do not, and tensions over Kosovo remain a source of volatility in the Balkans.