Low Voter Turnout Scuttles Mayoral Recall Vote In Northern Kosovo

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The Central Election Commission of Kosovo said turnout for elections on April 21 in four mostly Serbian municipalities in the north of the country fell far short of the 50 percent required to validate the results and therefore the election failed.

Only 253 people out of a combined estimated 46,000 registered voters across all four municipalities turned out, the head of the Central Election Commission said at a press conference after polls closed.

The head of the commission said the majority of registered voters did not vote as required by law, so the necessary 50 percent was not reached, “therefore we conclude that the citizens’ initiative for the removal of the mayors of Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Zvecan, and North Mitrovica municipalities has failed.”

The vote took place amid a boycott by the leading Serb political grouping.

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani said the election had been an opportunity for citizens in the northern municipalities to remove the current mayors and elect new ones through a recall process, but voters “largely did not take advantage” of the opportunity.

“Unfortunately, this was primarily due to pressure from Belgrade, exerted by the Serbian List and illegal criminal structures,” Osmani said on X. “Once again, Serbia has illegally interfered in the electoral process of another country. Once again, [Serbian President Aleksandar] Vucic has not kept his word given to international partners.”

The United States appreciated the efforts made by Kosovar election officials to allow all citizens registered in the four municipalities to participate in the vote, an embassy spokesperson said in a statement e-mailed to RFE/RL.

“We understand from international observation teams that there was extremely low voter turnout,” the spokesperson said. “There is therefore no decision by the voters to recall the mayors. The mayors in place were elected, and remain in place, under Kosovo’s legal framework.”

Local Government Administration Minister Elbert Krasniqi said earlier that the powerful Srpska Lista (Serbian List), which called the boycott, wants a “monopoly” on the politics of the Serbian community in Kosovo.

“They see the institutions only for themselves and not for the citizens,” said Krasniqi in a statement issued in Leposavic, where he visited polling stations. “They continue to have seats reserved for the Serbian community in the Assembly of Kosovo and do not represent the interests of the citizens, but receive the salaries of the Assembly of Kosovo.”

The voting is the latest irritant between Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanian population and tens of thousands of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo who, along with Belgrade, reject the former Serbian province’s 2008 declaration of sovereignty and Pristina’s authority.

The powerful Srpska Lista (Serbian List) party that represents many Serbs has urged them to boycott the mayoral by-elections in the North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok, and Leposavic municipalities.

Pristina cleared the path to the recall votes last September amid international pressure to hold new elections after ethnic Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted voting in April 2023 to replace Serbs who quit in protest over an intensifying administrative spat between Serbia and Kosovo.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence and normalization has eluded the former Yugoslav neighbors despite over a decade of EU-mediated talks that has failed to build sufficient trust or a binding road map to ensure Serb representation and Kosovar membership of international institutions including the United Nations.

Recently, Pristina stepped up pressure on its Serb population by suddenly prohibiting use of the Serbian dinar in January despite its continued use throughout many mostly Serb areas for essential payments and pensions and other supports from Serbia.

The abrupt restriction drew criticism from Belgrade and from many of Kosovo’s strongest allies, including the United States, of Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti as he continues a long-running test of wills with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

The Serbian List has criticized voter registers in the four municipalities as “outdated,” and said on April 7 it would boycott the elections.

Serbian List leader Zlatan Elek alleged “unfeasible procedures” for the April 21 voting and said the number of registered ethnic Albanians on the lists of local voters “has grown” since voting a year ago. He said voter lists “do not reflect the real situation on the ground.”

“The position of the Serbian List is not to participate in the referendum called by Albin Kurti, because he did everything to make it fail,” Elek said.

The dispute over the mayoralties escalated after ethnic Serbs in late 2022 quit those and other official posts — including on the police force and posts within the so-called parallel institutions that operate in Kosovo with Serbian support despite Pristina’s insistence that they are illegal.

After elections to replace the mayors in the four towns, Kurti’s government ignored international pleas to de-escalate the situation and sought in May 2023 to forcibly seat ethnic Albanians who’d been declared the winners despite paltry turnout reflecting the ongoing boycott.

Local resistance — some allege with direct support from Belgrade — erupted into violence that injured dozens of NATO peacekeepers and reminded the international community of the depth of tensions in a region only decades removed from ethnic cleansings and bitter warfare.

After the Kosovar government established a procedure for possible recall votes, Serbs were said to have collected signatures from the required one-fifth of voters in the four regions — reportedly with the open encouragement in January of Serbian List.

EU officials expressed disappointment at the Serbian List boycott effort.

Source: RFERL