PRISTINA – Kosovo's leftist-nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party appeared set to win the country's early parliamentary elections by a massive margin, according to partial official results, which could further complicate efforts to resolve the country's decades-long dispute with neighboring Serbia.
With more than 56 percent of ballots counted in the February 14 elections, Vetevendosje had 48 percent of the vote, far ahead of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) with 18 percent, the now-ruling Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) with 14 percent, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) with 8 percent.
Vevendosje would have to join forces with at least one other party to govern the Balkan country if it does not secure a majority of 61 seats in parliament.
The party has won support on pledges by its leader Albin Kurti, who served as prime minister for less than two months last year, to fight widespread corruption and on a stance that there should be no compromise in a dialogue with Serbia, which lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed its forces.
"Kosovo as an independent state, this Sunday, is turning to its people as the source of sovereignty. We should vote with love for the country," Kurti said after casting his ballot in Pristina.
At a press conference late in the day, Albulena Haxhiu of Vetevendosje called upon party supporters to celebrate at home instead of going to the streets because of the coronavirus pandemic and cold weather.
AAK head Ramush Haradinaj expressed readiness to form a coalition with Vetevendosje.
"We have declared that we have no red lines, neither for Vetevendosje nor for any political entity," Haradinaj said.
Some 1.8 million eligible voters are being asked to choose 120 lawmakers among more than 1,000 candidates from 28 political groupings.
Election authorities put the turnout at about 47.08 percent, nearly 3 percentage points higher than during the 2019 parliamentary elections. Vetevendosje won 26 percent of the vote in the 2019 polls.
Amid the pandemic, voters were required to wear masks and keep at least a 2-meter distance in polling stations. Election officials said that those infected by the coronavirus will be able to vote through mobile polling teams.
Some 100,000 Kosovars living abroad were also eligible to vote by post. Some 43,000 votes from the diaspora have already arrived in Kosovo.
The national elections are the fifth since independence. They were called on short notice by acting President Vjosa Osmani after the Constitutional Court ruled that the parliamentary vote electing a new government in June was unconstitutional.
The court ruled on December 21 that the election of Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti of the LDK was illegal because one member of parliament who voted for the government had previously served time in prison.
Since then, the campaign has featured disqualifications of Kurti and other senior politicians based on the same law.
'Multiple Reforms' On Agenda
A coalition government led by Kurti lasted only 51 days last year before it was toppled by a no-confidence vote based on its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a televised address on February 12, Kurti said dialogue with Serbia was "not one of the first priorities."
He has also said that multiple reforms would be on the new government's agenda.
"We plan to focus on the strengthening of our state, and two key concerns of the citizens of Kosovo are jobs and justice," Kurti said in an interview last week with the Associated Press.
Nearly one-quarter of Kosovo's workers were unemployed at one point last year, according to the national statistics agency. The World Bank says the coronavirus pandemic slowed the country’s growth by 4.5 percent in 2020.
Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, but Serbia, backed by Russia, does not, and normalization talks have stalled. The situation has blocked Kosovo from joining international organizations such as the United Nations and NATO.