Ethnic Serbs vote as normal in Kosovo elections
Tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo turned out to vote in national elections on Sunday (8 June) in what the EU is calling "a step forward" for democracy.
With almost all ballots counted, Kosovo's Central Election Commission says turnout in the four northern municipalities which are home to many Kosovar Serbs varied from 27 to 40 percent.
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Monitors from Europe's democracy watchdog, the OSCE, which sent 150 staff to the area, said all 94 polling stations were allowed to work in normal conditions.
"We were happy to witness a smooth election operation, conducted in a professional manner. There were no major incidents or irregularities reported," the head of the mission, Jean-Claude Schlumberger, said.
The EU foreign service added: "These elections are a step forward in the consolidation of Kosovo's democracy."
The events in north Kosovo stand in contrast to local elections last year, when pro-Serb militias attacked officials and smashed ballot boxes in protest at an EU deal to end de facto Serb rule in the region.
There were minor incidents this weekend.
Some Kosovar Serbs complained that ballot boxes should not bear the Kosovo state logo, because they do not recognise Kosovo independence despite taking part in the poll.
But Serbia itself, which also does not recognise Kosovo, but which is keen to make progress on EU accession, encouraged people to make the vote a success. "The best choice for the Serb people is participation in the elections," Serb PM Aleksandar Vucic said last week.
The events also stand in contrast to the 2010 national election in Kosovo, which saw accusations of large-scale fraud.
Overall turnout in Kosovo on Sunday was 42 percent, a fall compared to 54 percent in 2007 and 48 percent in 2010.
But the overall figure is similar to the EU-wide turnout for European Parliament elections in May.
Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci held on to power, with his PDK party winning with 31 percent.
The opposition LDK got 26 percent, while Self-Determination, a group which opposes the north Kosovo deal and which is wary of the EU in general, got 14 percent.
Thaci came first despite allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
He has promised to boost public wages, pensions, and social welfare by 25 percent every year.
But he might find it hard to find coalition partners and it is unclear where he will get the money, amid sluggish growth and unemployment of more than 35 percent.
He also promised to "work harder to join Nato and the EU".
Kosovo is in talks with Brussels on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, a precursor to EU accession.
But five EU states – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain – also do not recognise its independence, making its pro-EU path uncertain, with Spain, for one, unlikely to move on the issue amid separatist tension of its own in Catalonia.