Preliminary results in Kosovo’s municipal elections indicate that runoffs will be needed to decide the winning candidates in mayoral races in major cities throughout the Balkan country.
With about 90 percent of precincts reporting in the capital, Pristina, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said incumbent Mayor Shpend Ahmeti of the Self-Determination Party, also known as the Vetevendosje movement (VV), has won 43.42 percent of the vote.
If confirmed, it would mean that Ahmeti would face a runoff next month against Arban Abrashi of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), with 35.91 percent.
Runoffs were also likely in 18 other municipalities, including Prizren, Mitrovica, Gjilan, and Gjakova, the preliminary results indicate.
Countrywide, polling stations closed at 1900 local time (Eds: same time in Prague) and the CEC said the turnout was 43.79 percent, as the young republic took another step in its effort to solidify its democratic credentials.
International observers said the voting took place without any major irregularities.
“Procedures are respected. We were informed only about technical problems,” said Alojz Peterle, chief observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Kosovo.
Democracy in Action, a nongovernmental organization — which said it had some 3,000 observers monitoring the election — had said indications were that a second round of elections would be needed to determine mayoral winners in at least 15 municipalities.
Some 1.89 million people were registered to vote at 2,505 polling stations in the 38 municipalities. The CEC said the number of registered voters includes Kosovar citizens living abroad and is often larger than the actual population of Kosovo, currently about 1.81 million.
The mayor’s race in Pristina is seen as the big prize. The opposition Self-Determination Party currently controls town hall under Ahmeti’s leadership.
The country’s police chief, Shpend Maxhuni, said, “Creating a peaceful and secure climate for all citizens of the Republic of Kosovo, as well as maintaining order, peace, and public security in the country before, during, and after the election is the Kosovo police’s [priority].”
After casting her ballot in Pristina, CEC chief Valdete Daka said voting was continuing normally and that no major irregularities had been reported.
Police did cite one incident, saying they confiscated an explosive device from a bus entering Kosovo from Serbia via the Jarinje border crossing point on October 22.
According to Besim Hoti, deputy police commander for the municipality of North Mitrovica, the bus with a Serbian number plate was carrying 50 people, apparently intending to cast ballots in Kosovo.
Hoti told RFE/RL that two hand-bombs and two electric detonators were found in the bus during security checks at the border crossing.
Officials said the bus driver and two leaders of the group of passengers were detained.
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 authorities in Pristina.
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 Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the New Alliance for Kosovo (AKR), and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (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.
President Hashim Thaci had said he would give Ramush 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.