Kosovo authorities have set up containers to serve as polling stations for the April 23 local elections in Mitrovica North on April 20, 2023. Photo: BIRN/Adelina Ahmeti

Kosovo Braces for Disputed Local Elections in Mainly Serb North

Kosovo authorities have installed containers to serve as polling stations in Sunday's local elections in the Serb-dominated north, where – amid calls for a boycott – few people are likely to turn up and vote.

Kosovo authorities have been installing containers in four Serb-dominated northern municipalities to be used as polling stations on Sunday, when voters are called to cast ballots in disputed local elections that most locals are likely to boycott.

In elections opposed by Serbia and the Belgrade-backed Kosovo Serb party, Srpska Lista, which have called for a boycott, voters are being urged to cast ballots in these unusual venues instead of public premises.

However, the containers are unlikely to be used by many people. As election day looms, the leading candidate for mayor of Leposavic, Aleksandar Jablanovic, on Thursday announced the withdrawal of his own candidacy and his party candidates, citing lack of conditions.

“We call on our citizens and supporters who were ready to vote for us to not go to polling stations on Sunday. There are no adequate conditions for elections to be held,” Jablanovic said.

His withdrawal leaves Leposavic with no Serbian candidate, while Serbs make up the vast majority of the population there. Two other Albanian candidates representing the ruling Vetevendosje party and the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, are still running.

Only one Serbian candidate in all four municipalities has remained in the race. Sladjana Pantovic is running as an independent candidate for Zvecan municipality.

Valmir Elezi, from the Central Election Commission, CEC, told Radio Free Europe on Thursday that despite his withdrawal, Jablanovic’s name will remain on the ballot papers. “Ballots have already been printed,” he said.

The elections were supposed to be held on December 18 last year but, after a series of violent incidents and pressure from the international community, Kosovo postponed them.

They were triggered when all mayors in the four Serb-majority municipalities resigned from Kosovo state institutions last November, claiming that an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo had been breached after the Kosovo government stopped recognising Serbian-issued vehicle plates.

Burim Ahmetaj, CEC’s chief executive, said 26 containers will be installed. “Every polling centre will have two containers,” he said.

But Jablanovic said the elections were not a purely local matter.

“These elections are becoming more than local ones. We have come to a situation when these elections are determining whether Serbia will continue to have a presence in the north of Kosovo or whether Kosovo institutions take primacy in this area,” he told media in Leposavic.

“Our political rival is Srpska Lista, but this does not mean that the state and government of Serbia is our rival,” he added.

Last week, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said extraordinary local elections for the four municipalities should only be held after a long-promised Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo is established.

In the last local elections, in 2021, Srpska Lista won by far the most votes in all four municipalities, polling 97.1 per cent of the votes in Leposavic, 81.54 per cent in Zubin Potok, 96.04 per cent in Zvecan and 89.17 per cent in North Mitrovica.

21/04/2023 - 13:52

21 April 2023 - 13:52

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