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Kosovo PM Says Party Did Well In Local Elections

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci gives a thumbs up as he claims victory for his Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) in Pristina late on November 15.
PRISTINA (Reuters) -- Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) has claimed to have won more votes than any other party in Kosovo's first local elections since it declared independence from Serbia last year.

The November 15 vote was a test for Kosovo, which wants to establish itself as a fully functioning democracy and gain acceptance from more countries than the 63 that have so far recognized it as an independent state.

But analysts said low turnout of 45 percent reflected the disappointment many Kosovars feel in their leaders for failing to fix the 40 percent unemployment rate and dismal economic prospects of one of Europe's poorest countries.

As expected given the more than 70 political parties in the running, most municipalities were likely to have to go to a runoff in one month's time between the top two candidates. About 1.5 million people were eligible to elect mayors and local councils in 36 municipalities.

"Based on the results that we have until now, the majority of the municipalities need a second round to have a winner," said Valmir Ismaili from Democracy in Action, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations monitoring the elections.

A candidate needed 50 percent plus one vote to be successful in the first round. Kosovo's election commission said it would give initial results later in the day.

Thaci put his party's share of the national vote at "between 38 and 43 percent," a reflection of his party's efforts and promises to help local communities with roads, water, jobs and other issues.

"The victory of our party it is also a referendum for our good governance in the Republic of Kosovo," Thaci told party supporters in the early hours today amid champagne and fireworks.

The party of the President Fatmir Sejdiu, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), said it won the capital Pristina and were in position to contest several other municipalities. Like the prime minister's party, the LDK has stressed its focus on creating better economic conditions.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO bombs drove out Serb forces to stop the killing of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Mostly Western countries have recognized Kosovo's independence but not Serbia, its former ruler, nor Russia.

Serbian leaders in Belgrade had warned their ethnic kin in Kosovo not to participate in the elections and thus legitimize Kosovo's independence. But some of the 120,000 Kosovo Serbs in the southern part of the country went to the polls anyway because they will run their own municipalities.

Members of the European Parliament delegation said that the elections were held peacefully.

"Albeit with some imperfections, the election process to date took place in an overall peaceful and good-natured atmosphere with considerable voter participation," said six members from the European Parliament in a press statement.

After the war ended in 1999, elections in Kosovo were run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). These are the first polls to be organized by local authorities.