Kosovo begins first vote since independence

Kosovars began voting in their first parliamentary elections as citizens eager to see the new leaders pull them out of poverty.

Kosovo begins first vote since independence

Kosovars began voting in their first parliamentary elections since it declared independence almost three years ago as citizens of an independent country on Sunday eager to see the new leaders pull them out of poverty.

More than 1.6 million people -- including 70,000 new voters -- are eligible to cast their ballot in the elections for the 120-seat parliament.

It is the first election since the ethnic-Albanian majority declared Kosovo independent in February 2008.

The early elections were called after an uneasy ruling coalition imploded late September.

Former coalition partners the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) -- led by guerrilla leader turned Prime Minister Hashim Thaci-- and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) blamed each other for the crisis that ended their alliance.

The latest polls show a neck-and-neck race between Thaci's PDK and the LDK, which is led by the popular mayor of Pristina, Isa Mustafa.

Both campaigned on promises to launch an economic recovery, bring down unemployment from 48 percent and fight corruption.

More than 60 percent of the Kosovo population is under 25 and youth unemployment stands at more than 70 percent according to some estimates.

Unemployment is running at 48 percent, according to the World Bank.

"Serb parties in vote"


Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 72 countries including the US and all but five European Union members.

Serbia has called the 120,000-strong Serb minority in Kosovo to boycott the vote.

Despite Belgrade's call however, the electoral commission said eight of the 29 political parties on the ballot represented Serbs.

In the chilly morning, voters trickled to polling stations in Pristina when they opened at seven a.m. but their numbers slowly began to increase.

"The only thing that I want is a better economy and the health sector to be improved. Hospitals are a disaster here," nurse Durie Zhubi told Reuters at a Pristina polling station.

The polls will be observed closely by 170 observers of European elections monitoring network (ENEMO), more than 120 diplomatic teams and a European Parliament mission.

"I hope things will get better, that a stronger leader comes to power to fix things for Kosovo and not to steal," said Bekim Morina, 32, who was selling used cell phones in a pedestrian area facing the government offices.

"We urge all political parties to ensure a free and fair electoral process, in which every vote counts, since it is fundamental for any democratic state and crucial for Kosovo's EU integration process", said Doris Pack, the head of the European Parliament's election observer mission.

The campaign was mainly peaceful, but was marred by the killing of a Kosovo Bosniak election official on Wednesday loyal to the government in Pristina in the Serb-controlled part of the divided town of Mitrovica.


Agencies

Last Mod: 13 Aralık 2010, 09:52
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