PRISTINA -- Election officials say Kosovo's main opposition party has won a clear victory in an early vote held amid frigid temperatures, coronavirus fears, and worries about an economic slowdown.
With 98 percent of the February 14 vote counted, officials said the Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party had garnered 48 percent, putting it far ahead of center-right Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which got 17 percent.
The conservative governing party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), netted 13 percent of the vote -- its worst-ever showing -- a result that prompted party Chairman Isa Mustafa to announce his resignation.
As early results showed his party on track to victory, Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti, who is set to become prime minister, said the vote handed his party a chance for a new start.
"A new day begins tomorrow. This great victory tonight is only an opportunity for us to begin the change that we want," Kurti said. "There's a lot of work ahead for us, because the country is facing multiple crises."
Still, the results show that Kurti is unlikely to get the required 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament to create a cabinet on his own, and he signaled that he had no intention of forming a coalition cabinet with his losing opponents.
"We will wait for the counting of all the votes and certainly we are going to have a new government without including those who should reform themselves in opposition," Kurti said.
Leaders from both the PDK and the LDK said they had accepted the results and were positioning themselves as opposition forces in parliament.
However, following the LDK's disappointing showing at the polls, Mustafa announced his resignation on February 15. "This is a bad result," Mustafa told a news conference in Pristina. "Soon, the LDK assembly will elect a new chairman."
The Central Election Commission said about 47 percent of Kosovo’s eligible voters turned out to cast ballots, braving temperatures that hovered around minus 10 degrees Celsius. Turnout was up slightly from 2019.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kosovo’s economy was struggling with high unemployment. Organized crime and corruption remain major problems as well. The country has reported nearly 64,000 total coronavirus cases and just over 1,500 deaths.
Kosovo’s relations with Serbia, which it broke away from in 2008, remain fraught more than two decades after a war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces.
The 1998-99 war ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign drove Serb troops out and a peacekeeping force moved in.
Negotiations on normalizing ties with Serbia brokered by the United States and the European Union -- which stalled again last year -- did not figure high on Vetevendosje's agenda.
Kurti has said that forming a negotiating team for dialogue with Serbia would not be a priority for his government.
Kosovo’s Serb minority, meanwhile, has 10 seats in parliament and 10 other seats belong to other minorities. That could figure into Kurti’s ability to create a viable cabinet, experts said.