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Pristina Mayoral Race Within 307 Votes As Kosovars Go To Polls In Second Round

Kosovars Vote In Mayoral Runoffs
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Late results indicate a tight race for the big prize in the second round of local elections in Kosovo, with just 307 votes separating the two candidates in the Pristina mayoral contest.

Results from the Central Election Commission on November 20 showed incumbent Mayor Shpend Ahmeti of the Self-Determination Party, also known as the Vetevendosje movement (VV), leading with 41,403 votes, or 50.19 percent.

Arban Abrashi of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) had 41,096 votes, or 49.81 percent.

In the first round, Ahmeti had 43.61 percent, while Abrashi had 35.61 percent.

The commission said the totals did not include conditional, mail-in, or special-need ballots, and no announcement had been made as of early November 20.

Turnout in the capital was 44.39 percent, higher than the 38.09 percent for the country as a whole.

Voters throughout the Balkan country went to the polls on November 19 in the second round of elections, in another step in the young republic’s effort to solidify its democratic credentials.

Some 517,000 of the 1.36 million registered voters turned up at the 1,784 polling stations, election officials said.

The runoffs took place in 20 of the country's 38 municipalities in localities where mayors and councilors were not elected in the first round last month.

Preliminary results showed that the runoffs in many other municipalities, including Prizren, Mitrovica, Gjilan, and Gjakova, were very close as well.

CEC spokesman Valmir Elezi said earlier that "the electoral process is proceeding smoothly."

Police said a "sufficient number" of officers were deployed to guarantee order and security during the election process.

More than 12,000 local and international observers monitored the vote.

The first round indicated the ruling coalition headed by the PDK of President Hashim Thaci had 34 percent. The PDK coalition includes former prime minister and rebel leader Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK).

But the October 22 results also indicated that the nationalist VV was picking up support, gaining 27 percent, just ahead of a coalition led by outgoing Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's LDK, which had 26 percent.

Election authorities said the turnout was around 44 percent in the first round.

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.

Thaci had said he would give 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.