Voters in Kosovo are heading to the polls for the second round of local elections that are seen as another step in the young republic’s effort to solidify its democratic credentials.
The November 19 runoffs are taking place in half of the country's 38 municipalities – including in the capital, Pristina -- where mayors and councilors were not elected in the first round last month.
People are also voting in the Serb-majority municipality of Partes, where the Central Election Commission (CEC) annulled the results of the first round following vote manipulations.
After casting her ballot in Pristina, CEC chief Valdete Daka urged all registered voters to go to the polls.
"Today’s [vote] is closing the 2017 local elections process,” she said. “I hope that this day passes like the first round -- in a democratic and fair spirit. I invite the citizens to exercise their right to vote."
Election authorities said turnout was nearly 7 percent at 11 a.m. local time, four hours into voting, lower than the 8.8 percent reported at the same time in the first round.
CEC spokesman Valmir Elezi said that "the electoral process is proceeding smoothly."
Police said that a "sufficient number" of officers were deployed to guarantee order and security during the election process.
More than 12,000 local and international observers were expected to be monitoring the vote.
The mayor’s race in the capital, Pristina, is seen as the big prize. Incumbent Mayor Shpend Ahmeti of the Self-Determination Party, also known as the Vetevendosje movement (VV), is running against Arban Abrashi of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).
"I take the opportunity to invite all those who have the right to vote to come as early as possible to vote in greater numbers," Ahmeti said after casting his ballot, adding that "the municipality affects the lives of the citizens in many ways."
In the first round held on October 22, candidates of the LDK gathered more than 50 percent of votes in 4 municipalities, avoiding runoffs.
Candidates of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) were elected mayors in two municipalities each, while the Serbian List won mayoral positions in eight municipalities.
Independent candidates were elected mayors in two municipalities.
Election authorities said the turnout was around 44 percent.
In a preliminary statement, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) said that the elections were "genuinely competitive and the campaign environment was calm" in Albanian-majority municipalities, "allowing numerous candidates to freely communicate their messages to the voters."
However, it said that "deep concerns" persisted over the democratic process in many Kosovo Serb communities, where it said the campaign environment was "marred by intimidation."
Western-backed Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by 115 countries, although not by Serbia or Russia.
There are some 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo, and most of them oppose the Pristina authorities.
The CEC has said that 27 of the municipalities have an ethnic Albanian majority, 10 have ethnic-Serb majorities, and one is mostly ethnic Turkish.
Earlier this year, Kosovo experienced a prolonged period of political instability created by inconclusive June elections.
The political gridlock eased in September when a coalition headed by the PDK, the New Alliance for Kosovo (AKR), and the AAK agreed to form a government.
The deal gave the coalition, which also included ethnic-Serb and other non-Albanian minority parties, 63 of parliament's 120 seats.
President Hashim Thaci had said he would give Ramush Haradinaj, leader of the AAK, a formal mandate to try to form a government once he could show he had a deal showing a majority coalition was in place.