An Election without Voters

Election Kosovo
© European Union, Photographer: Aurore Martignoni

Out of the 45.095 citizens in four Northern municipalities in Kosovo – most of them being ethnic Serbs – with the right to vote, only 1.556 of them exercised their right to vote: the vast majority of them were ethnic Albanians and only 13 were ethnic Serbs. As an outcome, all elected heads of four predominantly Serb municipalities are now ethnic Albanians. The elections recorded one of the lowest turnouts ever with only 3,5%.

The elections organized by the Kosova Central Election Commission were initially scheduled to be held in December 2022 but were postponed due to violence in Northern Kosovo municipalities. They became necessary after representatives of the Serb minority resigned from Kosovar institutions in 2022 in the aftermath of a dispute concerning the compulsory use of Kosovar license plates by Serb citizens. President Vjosa Osmani had initially set 25 December 2022 as the polling date for the municipal assemblies in the north of Kosovo.

This time, the pending formation of an “Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities”, agreed on in 2013 in the so-called “Brussels Agreement” and believed to bring more autonomy to Serbs in Kosovo, was deemed the major obstacle for Serbs to participate in the elections. As a result, the elections were again boycotted by the biggest political party of Serbs in Kosovo, the “Serb List”, following its departure from Kosovo institutions and the resignation of their mayors in North Kosovo in November last year.

Among the candidates, there were only three from the Serb community: Aleksandar Arsenijevic, candidate for mayor in the municipality of North Mitrovica, withdrew his candidacy in December 2022. On 20 April, also Aleksandar Jablanovic, leader of the Party of Kosova Serbs (PKS) and candidate for Mayor of Leposavić/Leposaviq, withdrew up his candidature. Sladjana Pantovic was the only Serb candidate who stayed in the running for mayor of Zvecan/Zvečan, winning just five votes.

The usual blame game

For the election boycott, Kosovar leaders blamed Serbia, saying that the pressure and threats from Belgrade are continuing against Serbian citizens living in Kosovo. There were also reactions from the EU Commission, which considered that the elections in the North do not offer a political solution as the Commission’s spokesperson urged Serbs to return to the Kosovar institutions.

“There is an urgent need for a serious dialogue”, EU foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano said on Monday. “It is imperative that we urgently restore a situation where Kosovo Serbs participate actively in local governance, policing and judiciary in the north of Kosovo.” He also emphasized that the establishment of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities needs to be finalized as soon as possible.

The EU spokesperson continued by saying that “the EU regrets that not all parties and communities made use of their democratic right to participate and vote in the elections”. He noted that “the very low turnout, in particular among Kosovo Serb citizens, shows that this process is not and cannot be considered business as usual.”

A sample of no value

According to the preliminary results, the mayoral race in North Mitrovica and Leposavić/Leposaviq was won by the candidates of the social-democratic Vetëvendosje Movement, while in Zvečan/Zveçan and Zubin Potok those of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). Previously, these municipalities were led by members of the largest Serbian party in Kosovo, the “Serb List”, which this time boycotted the elections.

Despite the setback caused by the boycott, the Kosovo government on Monday seemed determined to work with the outcome. Prime Minister Albin Kurti claimed the elections were “calm and with no incidents,” but described the atmosphere in Northern Kosovo as one of “fear and blackmail, therefore the participation of citizens in these elections was low. The boycott was imposed by the threatening campaign from Belgrade and its criminal tools in the north.” Also the President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, spoke of “criminal groups run by Serbia”, which could not be allowed to dictate constitutional and legal processes in the Republic of Kosovo.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić denied the accusations: “We have witnessed a peaceful political uprising of Serbs in the north,” Vučić said while predicting that “this is just the start of a greater political crisis.” Serbs would not tolerate a dictate from Prishtina any longer, which is somewhat presumptuous, given that the elections were open to all citizens, regardless of their ethnic background.

Liberals “win” two municipalities

The Chairman of PDK, a member of the liberal European ALDE Party, Memli Krasniqi said that the party had won in Zvečan/Zveçan and Zubin Potok. “I congratulate our candidates for their victories. Meanwhile, the greatest thanks goes to all those citizens who even today trusted the PDK, our candidates and our offer.”

Also Krasniqi stressed that fact that the electoral process was orderly and smooth. “However, the fact that the situation in the Northern part has degraded remains very worrying, which was also conveyed by the low participation of citizens in the elections.” PDK would remain committed and determined to provide inclusive governance for all citizens, without distinction. “This has been our pledge – this is also our mission”, added Krasniqi.