Kosovo voters focus on Serbia peace deal - GulfToday

Kosovo voters focus on Serbia peace deal


People cast their ballots at a polling centre in Pristina on Sunday. Reuters

Kosovo went to the polls Sunday in an election that could usher in new leadership at a time when stalled talks with former war foe Serbia are a source of instability in Europe.

Whoever takes the reins will be under heavy pressure from the West to renew dialogue with Belgrade, which still rejects the independence its former province declared in 2008.

However, for many of Kosovo’s 1.8 million citizens, high unemployment, widespread corruption and poor healthcare are more pressing concerns than the talks.

“We need freedom, a state governed by the rule of law, prosperity, economic development,” voter Mentor Nimani, 47, said in the capital Pristina shortly after polling began.

For the past decade Kosovo has been dominated by members of the guerrilla forces who waged an insurgency against Serbian repression in the late 1990s − a war that cost 13,000 lives, mostly Kosovo Albanians.

Sunday’s snap poll was called after then prime minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned in July to face questioning by a special court in The Hague investigating war crimes from that era.

Opposition parties hope to block him and other ex-fighters from regaining power by harnessing public frustration with the graft and poverty that have blighted Kosovo’s first decade of independence.

Brussels and Washington will be watching closely to see whether a change of power can thaw the frozen dialogue and ease tensions.

Kosovo needs Serbia − and its allies Russia and China − to accept its statehood so it can get a seat in the United Nations.

Serbia is also under pressure to make peace with Kosovo, so it can move forward with its EU accession process.

But the EU-led talks have been at a standstill for nearly two years, with frequent diplomatic provocations souring efforts to build goodwill.

Ahead of the vote, the US and four European countries made clear the poll offered an important “chance to urgently restart talks.”

“I am fed up with this story of the dialogue” with Serbia, shop owner Salih Mehana, 39, said in Pristina.

But analyst Krenar Shala expects the issue to top the agenda of any new government.

“It is clear that the future government will focus almost its entire energy on the dialogue with Serbia and very little on the issues discussed with the citizens during this election campaign,” he said.

Agence France-Presse

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