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Ex-Rebel Leader Is Poised to Win Kosovo Election


Special units of Kosovo police protecting a polling station in the northern town of Leposavic on Sunday. Credit Djordje Savic/European Pressphoto Agency

SKOPJE, Macedonia — For the third time since Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, voters elected a new Parliament on Sunday, likely giving power to a former rebel leader who was twice acquitted of war crimes by an international tribunal.

With around 80 percent of the votes tallied, a coalition of parties featuring the Democratic Party of Kosovo appeared to win the most votes and will seek to establish a government led by Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister and once the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought a war for independence from Serbia in the late 1990s.

According to preliminary results released by the Kosovo election commission, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, or P.D.K., won 35 percent, beating the ruling Democratic League of Kosovo and the Self-Determination Party, both earning around 25 percent.

Without a clear majority, the leading party must form a coalition to establish a government. There are 20 seats reserved for ethnic minority parties, including 10 seats for Serbs.

Mr. Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo is part of the P.D.K.’s center-right coalition that campaigned against the Democratic League’s governing coalition led by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, who lost a confidence vote in May, prompting snap elections.

There is a lot of work ahead, Mr. Haradinaj told a crowd of his supporters Sunday night in Pristina, the capital, “but all together, we can solve all issues and we will do all important things for Kosovo.”

The likely ascension of Mr. Haradinaj is sure to anger Kosovo’s neighbor Serbia, which accuses him of torturing and killing Serb civilians while he was a commander of the NATO-backed Kosovo Liberation Army in 1998 and 1999.

Mr. Haradinaj served briefly as Kosovo’s prime minister in 2005, when the former Serbian-controlled province was administered by the United Nations, but he was forced to step down to face war crimes accusations at a tribunal in The Hague. He was twice acquitted, in 2008 and 2012, and allowed to return to Kosovo.

In addition to dealing with tensions with Serbia, the new prime minister must also contend with a border dispute with Montenegro, and Kosovo’s daunting economic outlook.

A landlocked Balkan country with a population of 1.8 million, Kosovo has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe at more than 30 percent, and corruption is rampant. More than half a million Kosovars live abroad and the economy is highly dependent on remittances from those expatriates, accounting for as much as 15 percent of the national economy, according to the World Bank.

Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the P.D.K. who now serves in the ceremonial role of president of Kosovo, emphasized on Sunday the need to for “a pro-European government that will swiftly address immediate priorities.”

Though Serbia and its ally Russia refuse to accept Kosovo’s independence, the country is recognized by the European Union and the United States. The American ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, endorsed Sunday’s vote.

“Today was an important step in Kosovo’s democracy,” Mr. Delawie said, adding that no matter the final count, “the common good, not politics, must be the goal for the country.”

The vote was largely conducted in a democratic manner, with only minor irregularities reported by Kosovo’s election commission. Before the vote, European Union officials had expressed concerns over reports last week of voter intimidation.

The electoral commission estimated that 41 percent of registered voters participated in the election, down from 43 percent in the last election in 2014.

Once the results are confirmed, Mr. Haradinaj and the coalition will have 45 days to try to form a government.

Political analysts predict the process will be quick, because voters have made clear their desire for change.

“The people are tired of political issues with their neighbors; they want to see them resolved,” said Nezir Kraki, a political analyst and professor at the Université Paris-Est Créteil. “They are tired of talking about dealing with corruption. They want to see results in that fight.”

Source: NYT > World

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