PRISTINA -- Opposition politicians in Kosovo have welcomed a ruling by the country's highest court nullifying the election by parliament of a new president.
Behgjet Pacolli, a multimillionaire with close ties to Russia, was selected during a parliament session last month that was boycotted by a number of lawmakers.
Kosovo's Constitutional Court ruled on March 28 that the process used to elect Behgjet Pacolli was illegal.
It is unclear whether Pacolli will resign immediately or if he will continue to serve while fresh elections are held.
Vjosa Osmani is a member of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), one of two parties to challenge Pacolli's election. She tells RFE/RL that the court is expected to announce March 30 what the next step will be for Pacolli.
"Since we're not talking about an act by the president himself, there can't be an exoneration, of course. We're talking about an act taken by the parliament," Osmani says. "We have to wait and see what remedy the Constitutional Court will recommend to the parliament. Will it recommend a reversal of the previous situation, and take us back to zero, before the vote began? Or will it propose a new vote, or some other solution?"
Pacolli, a multimillionaire who holds Swiss citizenship, was narrowly elected in February after three rounds of voting by the Kosovar parliament.
Now, the court says the vote was unconstitutional. The ruling appears to back arguments by opposition lawmakers that a boycott of last month's election rendered the vote illegal because the number of MPs present fell short of constitutional requirements.
The decision marks the second time in six months that Kosovo's Constitutional Court has ruled against the election of a head of state.
Fatmir Sejdiu was forced to resign as Kosovar president in September 2010.
Fatmir Sejdiu was forced to resign in September 2010 after the court said he had violated the constitution by serving simultaneously as president and head of his political party.
Pacolli is broadly resented by opposition lawmakers because of his close ties to Russia, a country that staunchly opposed Kosovo's self-declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Lucrative Contracts
The 59-year-old Pacolli is an entrepreneur whose wealth is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A naturalized Swiss citizen, he is the founder of the Swiss-based engineering firm Mabetex, which in the 1990s won lucrative contracts renovating the Kremlin, the State Duma, and other Russian government buildings.
Mabetex is also active in Uzbekistan and in Kazakhstan, where it recently completed the construction of the lavish presidential palace in the capital, Astana.
Pacolli entered Kosovar politics in 2006 as the head of the New Kosovo Alliance party. His election as president came as part of a power-sharing deal with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
The agreement followed a narrow victory by Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo in parliamentary elections in December 2010.
In Kosovo, true power lies with the prime minister. But analysts like Riza Smaka, a former MP and a legal affairs expert, says Pacolli's ouster is likely to have a broader impact on Kosovo politics.
"According to the constitution, when an election fails, then the parliament must be dissolved and new early elections must be declared," Smaka says. "Then the government, of course, has to fall, as well, because the government was elected after the election of the president."
The ruling is the latest in a series of major political challenges as Kosovo emerges as an independent state. Allegations of political involvement in corruption and criminal rings are rife in Kosovo.
In December 2010, the Council of Europe human rights body included Thaci in a list of officials accused of crimes, including organ trafficking, during Kosovo's war with Serbia in the late 1990s. The Kosovar government has rejected the claims.
reported by Albana Isufi in Pristina and written by Daisy Sindelar in Prague