Voters in Kosovo were electing a new parliament Sunday amid calls for leaders to resume dialogue with Serbia over normalizing ties.
Some 1.9 million eligible voters started to cast their ballots to elect 120 lawmakers in the Balkan nation that became independent from Serbia in 2008.
The vote comes after the outgoing prime minister resigned in July following a request from a Hague-based court to question him over crimes against ethnic Serbs during and after the country’s 1998-99 war.
No single political party is likely to win the vote on its own and coalition governments have proven hard to form in the past. The Serb minority has 10 guaranteed seats in parliament and 10 others belong to other minorities.
Key topics include resuming European Union-sponsored talks with Serbia aimed at normalizing ties between the two countries and fighting Kosovo’s high unemployment, which stands at more than 25%, as well as battling organized crime and corruption.
The outgoing prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, who was questioned in The Hague but not charged, is running for re-election with his center-right Alliance for Kosovo Future.
He faces Vjosa Osmani of the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo, the first female candidate for prime minister; Kadri Veseli of the center-right Democratic Party of Kosovo; and Albin Kurti of the center-left Self-Determination Movement Party, which has used extreme methods like throwing tear gas in parliament to protest deals with Serbia.
Kosovo became independent in 2008 after NATO intervened in 1999 to stop then-Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s bloody crackdown on Albanian independence fighters’ insurrection. It is recognized by more than 100 countries but not by Serbia.
In Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, officials were telling voters to support the Belgrade-backed Serb List party.
Leading Serb List party official Goran Rakic described Sunday’s vote as “decisive for the future of the Serbian people” on Kosovo.
Prosecutor’s office reported that two election officials in northern Mitrovica had been arrested for abuse of post, apparently letting ethnic Serb voters use Serbian identity cards for identification.
A few hundred international observers and thousands of local ones were monitoring the polls in around 1,000 voting stations.
Valdete Daka, head of the Central Election Commission, was among the first to vote, urging all Kosovars to cast a ballot.
“Whatever occurs today will be billed to Kosovo,” she said.
Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.