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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Election Outcome Marred By Shooting

  • Jolyon Naegele

The OSCE has announced preliminary and incomplete results of the 26 October municipal elections in Kosovo, showing that President Ibrahim Rugova's mainstream Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, retained control in more than half of Kosovo's 30 municipalities. But as RFE/RL reports, the election outcome was marred by the shooting of the LDK mayor of one town by a supporter of a rival party.

Prague, 29 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, remains the strongest party in Kosovo after municipal elections on 26 October.

Ambassador Pascal Fieschi of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, announced preliminary results in Pristina last night based on 87 percent of the ballots counted. He noted that preferences had shifted somewhat since the last municipal elections two years ago. "There may be places where you will deduce that a handover may happen. Of course, this is what elections are about," Fieschi said.

Fieschi described the electoral process in Kosovo as "well within European standards."

Those elected on the basis of proportional representation in Saturday's polling will serve a four-year term in the province's 30 municipal assemblies. Their tasks include management of local transportation and water supplies, education, social services, and environmental protection.

The OSCE chairman in office, Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz, today noted that, "for the first time, the full ethnic diversity of Kosovo was reflected by the political entities represented on the ballots." He said this has created "the conditions for participation of all of Kosovo's communities in local government."

In contrast to the first postwar municipal elections in 2000, in which non-Albanian parties largely boycotted the vote, parties representing virtually all of Kosovo's minorities participated this time.

Nevertheless, voter participation varied widely across the province, from a high of 86 percent in the ethnically mixed Novo Brdo municipality, where Serb parties hope to gain a slim majority, to a low of 32 percent in the Serb-majority district of Leposaviq. Very few Serbs appear to have voted in neighboring Mitrovica and Zvecan. But in another neighboring Serb-inhabited district, Zubin Potok, turnout was 78 percent.

Turnout was moderately high in Albanian-majority districts and was 58 percent for Kosovo as a whole, but 54 percent when exiled Serb voters currently in neighboring Serbia and Montenegro are taken into account, since only 15 percent of them cast ballots.

Rugova's LDK retained an absolute majority in 15 of the province's 30 municipalities but will have to share power in a coalition in three other municipalities in the more politically diverse western part of the province (Decan, Peja/Pec, and Prizren).

Former rebel political commander Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, or PDK, won an absolute majority in four former strongholds of the since-disbanded insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK (Gllogovc, Skenderaj, Shtimlje, and Malishevo) and is the largest party, though without a majority in three others (Novo Brdo, Kacanik, and Lipjan).

The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, or AAK, of former UCK commander Ramush Haradinaj took a strong second place in three municipalities, all in western Kosovo (Decan, Gjakova, and Peja/Pec).

Serb parties won a majority in Leposavic and Zubin Potok (Democratic Party of Serbia/DSS) and in Zvecan (Serbian People's Council/SNV).

In the more ethnically diverse Novo Brdo municipality, the combined strength of Serb parties surpasses that of the PDK. Serbia's deputy prime minister, Nebojsa Covic, who oversees Kosovo affairs for Belgrade, insists that including absentee ballots from Serbia and Montenegro, the Serb parties have won nearly 55 percent of the vote in Novo Brdo, sufficient to form a majority government in the municipality. But the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy, CESID, says it is too early to claim a victory since the absentee ballots of displaced persons have not yet been counted.

During the past two years, Serbs have successfully served in Albanian-led municipal coalitions in at least two neighboring municipalities, Gjilan/Gnjilane and Viti/Vitina, but it remains unclear whether this can be accomplished in Novo Brdo.

Covic and other Serb leaders were slow in calling on Kosovo Serb voters to participate in the elections, and this may have contributed to the low Serb turnout.

Michael Steiner, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK, said his plan for decentralization in Kosovo, which would benefit the province's Serb enclaves, was conditional on Serbs voting in sufficient numbers in the municipal elections. However, Steiner has now postponed a meeting on decentralization due to the low Serb turnout. Covic responded by accusing UNMIK of "becoming a factor of instability in the area."

One of the municipalities where LDK scored particularly well was Suhareka/Suva Reka, also known as Theranda, where it won 61 percent of the vote, while PDK won nearly 25 percent

However, LDK's joy was short-lived. The municipality's incumbent LDK mayor, Uka Bytyci, and his two bodyguards were shot dead Sunday afternoon when they tried to calm a dispute in the nearby village of Leshan between LDK revelers and dissatisfied PDK supporters.

UNMIK police spokesman Derek Chappell said: "The three men got out [of their car] and approached the crowd, and as they did so, one gunman opened fire on the three of them. At least one of the bodyguards returned fire, striking the shooter."

Chappell noted that the attacker suffered light injuries in the shooting and is now in investigative custody in Prizren.

The deputy mayor, Vitor Markaj, said the shooting was "well-planned and -organized and was not an isolated incident."

UN mission spokesman Andrea Agnelli denounced the shooting. "This callous killing is particularly distressing after municipal elections in Kosovo, which were conducted so smoothly and without violent incidents," Agnelli said.

LDK says the attack was politically motivated. The party's co-founder, President Ibrahim Rugova, declared a day of national mourning yesterday. "We must find and punish the criminals and killers. We will take all measures as citizens and government to isolate these killers, the killers of our children and of their children," Rugova said.

Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, a member of Thaci's PDK, the party to which alleged gunman Abdulah Krueziu belongs, denied any evidence exists that Krueziu is a PDK member or supporter.

Rexhepi called the shooting "an inhuman and criminal act" that he said threatens to overshadow the elections. "In the wake of the elections, which were really tolerant, this somehow diminishes the successful influence of the elections. We have to try to ensure that this will never happen again," Rexhepi said.

LDK leaders and activists have repeatedly been the target of assassins during the last 3 1/2 years, above all since the first municipal elections when former UCK fighters were taken aback that the majority of voters preferred mainstream, relatively moderate politicians.

Until 27 October, the political violence seemed to have largely subsided. But the shootings at Leshan are a reminder that many former rebels and sympathizers remain armed and frustrated and continue to pose a threat to Kosovo's stability.