PRISTINA -- Kosovo's two major opposition parties -- the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and Vetevendosje -- appear to have upended the ruling party, in power for 12 years, during snap parliamentary elections held on October 6.
With nearly 96 percent of the ballots counted as of 3:56 a.m. local time on October 7, the website of the Central Election Commission showed the leftist-nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party garnered nearly 26 percent of the vote, followed by the center-right LDK getting 25 percent.
Members of Vetevendosje celebrated in Pristina as the party’s leader, Albin Kurti, declared victory, saying “a new chapter” for Kosovo has opened.
The former ruling party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), which has dominated politics for the last decade, placed third, winning less than 22 percent of the vote.
In fourth was the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo led by former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj with 11.6 percent.
Vetevendosje leader Kurti said he would form the next government hopefully by reaching a coalition with LDK.
“It is very welcoming that [together with LDK] we will have at least 60 members of parliament,” Kurti told local media.
The LDK's prime minister candidate, Vjosa Osmani, said she believed the parties would "sit down and talk about a coalition."
Ten of the 120 parliamentary seats are reserved for ethnic Serbs and another 10 are set aside for other minorities, including ethnic Turks and Roma.
Should he become the next prime minister, Kurti said he plans to improve the country in five key areas: economic development, education, health and social issues, and the rule of law.
Earlier in the evening, after 75 percent of the votes were counted, PDK leader Kadri Veseli conceded defeat.
“We didn’t win,” Veseli said. “Citizens have given their verdict and we accept it. PDK will go into the opposition and we will continue to serve the nation and the state.”
The official outcome of the vote is expected on October 7. The turnout was 44 percent, a slight improvement on the previous election two years ago.
Some 1.9 million people were eligible to vote. They took part in electing 120 lawmakers in what was Kosovo's fourth parliamentary vote since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
The elections took place after a campaign that was dominated by issues of corruption, high unemployment, and a possible peace deal with Serbia that would clear the way for Kosovo's membership in the United Nations.
Kosovo has Europe’s youngest population with an average age of 29, and economic growth has averaged 4 percent over the past decade. But it remains very poor -- unemployment is 25 percent -- and more than 200,000 Kosovars have left and applied for asylum in the European Union since Pristina won its independence.
The election was triggered by the resignation of then-Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in July after war crimes prosecutors at The Hague summoned him for questioning over his wartime role as a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).
Public dissatisfaction with the record of Haradinaj's three-party governing coalition had boosted the chances of opposition parties, with the center-right LDK and the nationalist, left-leaning Vetevendosje vying for first place.
The Serbian community in Kosovo was represented in the election by four political entities -- the Kosovo Serb Party from Leposavic, the Gracanica-based Freedom Coalition, the Independent Liberal Party, also from Gracanica, and the Serb List based in North Mitrovica.
The total number of voters in 10 Serb-majority municipalities is over 117,000, while 50 candidates are competing for the 10 seats reserved for ethnic Serbs.
Candidates from the Serb List voted together at a polling station in North Mitrovica immediately after the polling station opened. With them were workers of institutions funded by the Republic of Serbia. Based on a Central Election Committee decision, voting is only allowed with Kosovar documents.
Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by more than 110 states but not by others, including five EU members, as well as Serbia, Russia, and China. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced during last month's UN General Assembly that he was "working on new withdrawals of recognition" from some UN states.
European Union-sponsored talks aimed at normalizing ties between the two countries stalled last year over Kosovo's decision to impose a 100 percent tax on goods from Serbia.
The EU sent a 61-member team of observers for the election to show that Pristina "remains a political priority."
The EU regards Kosovo as at a crossroads, but Brussels' leverage is limited amid an ongoing Brexit debate, some members' reluctance to recognize Kosovo, and little prospect of early entry for aspiring members.