PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s left-wing main opposition party has won a clear victory in an early election held amid the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn and stalled negotiations with wartime foe Serbia.
With 98% of the votes counted Monday, the Determination Movement Party had 48% support. That left it far ahead of the center-right Democratic Party of Kosovo, or PDK, which won 17% and the conservative governing Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, which captured 13% of the vote.
Voters in Sunday’s election came out despite minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) temperatures and snowfall. Turnout was 47%, or 2.5% higher than the 2019 election, according to the Central Election Commission.
Determination Movement leader Albin Kurti, who is expected to become the next prime minister, faces the challenges of reviving the poor nation's economy and reducing unemployment, as well as fighting the pandemic, organized crime and corruption.
“We won this referendum for justice and jobs, against state capture and corruption,” said Kurti late Sunday. “Our priority is justice and jobs.”
The victory, however, may not give Kurti the required 61 seats in the 120-seat parliament to create a Cabinet on his own. He made it clear there would be no coalition with the main losing opponents.
Kosovo’s Serb minority has 10 seats in parliament and 10 other seats belong to other minorities.
Negotiations on normalizing ties with Serbia, which stalled again last year after talks brokered by the U.S. and the European Union, did not figure high on the winning party's agenda. Kurti said forming a negotiating team for dialogue would not be a priority.
Independent analyst Donika Emini called on Kurti not to avoid the talks with Serbia but to “be more sensitive, more proactive” with Kosovo's political group as well as the international community.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi urged Kosovo to soon form the new parliament, government and elect the president and advance reforms, pledging continuous Brussels' support.
“Kosovo’s European path also goes through the comprehensive normalization of relations with Serbia,” their statement said.
Kosovo is seeking to eventually enter the 27-nation EU and has signed with Brussels a stabilization agreement, the first step towards membership.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a brutal 1998-1999 war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces. The war ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign drove Serb troops out and a peacekeeping force moved in.
Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China do not. Tensions over Kosovo remain a source of volatility in the Balkans.
Within two months of taking their seats, Kosovo’s lawmakers must elect the country’s president. If no candidate is elected after three rounds of voting, the country could be forced to hold another early parliamentary election.