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Monitors Praise Smooth Ballot in Kosovo Elections

Central Election Commission workers counted votes in Pristina.

(RFE/RL) -- Preliminary results from Kosovo's November 15 elections have been delayed another day due to what election officials say are technical difficulties with the system designed to gather data from polling stations.

RFE/RL's Pristina bureau chief Arbana Vidishiqi reports that the Central Election Commission reported only partial results Monday night.

"The Central Election Commission just came out with the preliminary results in regard to mayors who won in 36 municipalities.The Central Election Commission did not come out the results for 36 municipal assemblies," Vidishiqi said.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi's Democratic Party of Kosovo claimed it had won more votes than any other political party, which opposition parties disputed.

Our correspondent says the mayoral race results that were reported by the Central Election Commission do not show large vote differences between the three main parties. But it does appear that the Democratic Party of Kosovo, led by Prime Minister Thaçi, has won the most mayoral posts, with the Democratic League of Kosovo, led by President Fatmir Sejdiu, second, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, headed by Ramush Haradinaj, third.

Those results could change next month during a second round of voting because in many of the contests, no candidate won a majority of votes plus one.

Election officials have blamed the delay in announcing results on technical difficulties with a system designed to send polling data via SMS text messaging. The results of the municipal assembly elections are now scheduled to be announced Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time.

First Democracy Test

Sunday's elections were Kosovo's first local elections since the country declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and the first major test of its ambitions to become a fully functioning democracy. So far 63 nations have officially recognized Kosovo's independence.

The elections were closely watched by the international community to see if the small, ethnically-tense nation was capable of holding a free and fair ballot.

Going into the vote, there were fears of fraud, tension between ethnic Albanian rivals, and a massive boycott by minority Serbs who reject Kosovo's independent status.

But the verdict from the European Parliament, which sent a team of observers, was that the elections were a success.

Speaking in Pristina, observation team leader Doris Pack said the fact that there were no disruptions or allegations of fraud shows that Kosovars "have reached a certain maturity."

"We have to congratulate Kosovo citizens, who turned out [to vote] in [large numbers]. And this shows also that they have understood that being independent means to take responsibility and to show the world that they are really ready to go forward," Pack said.

The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, Christopher Dell, also praised the elections, saying that the country's voters and politicians had "demonstrated to the world that an independent Kosovo is a place where democracy can and does flourish. "

Hill said the more than 70 political parties vying for a share of power in the new government had run "spirited and generally incident-free campaigns based on real issues such as schools, the economy, and municipal services."

Serb Boycott

Still, voter turnout was lower than many hoped. Nesrin Lushta, the head of Kosovo's Central Election Commission, said less than half the country's 1.5 million eligible voters had cast a ballot.

"The total number of voters, who turned out in polling stations is 709,362. In percentage, it is 45.36 per cent of eligible voters," she said.

Ethnic Serbs had been urged by Belgrade to boycott the vote and deny Pristina's bid for wider international recognition.

RFE/RL's Vidishiqi says a boycott only materialized in the north of the country.

"It is a mostly complete boycott in northern Kosovo, [which is] inhabited by a majority of Serbs, but the Serbs in central Kosovo did vote. It's not a general boycott. It actually represents a break of boycott tradition. In 2007, when we had general elections, mayoral elections, and municipal elections -- there were three tiers of elections -- only 1,000 Serbs voted," she said.

In Gracanica, for example -- a newly established municipality 6 kilometers east of Pristina populated by a majority of ethnic Serbs -- voter participation was 27 percent, which is considered high.

Valentina Ristic was part of that turnout. The ethnic Serb said she cast her ballot in hopes that the election results would improve day-to-day life in her town.

"Of course, we expect changes. It's about time for changes to happen here and for our municipality to begin functioning with genuine capacities," Ristic said.

But her fellow ethnic Serb and Gracanica resident, Stamenko Milenkovic, said he stayed home because he didn't think his vote would change anything.

"I did not vote and I don't ever intend to, I even did not vote in our elections [Serbia's elections in Kosovo]," he said.

" I have lost my faith in everyone who has power. They only remember us during their election campaigns, otherwise they forget about us."