Serb-majority municipalities boycott vote to remove Albanian mayors

Residents of four Serb-majority municipalities boycotted a referendum on removing their ethnic Albanian mayors from office on Sunday, following last year’s mayoral elections.

The vote was an attempt to diffuse tensions between Kosovo and neighbouring Serbia as both countries seek to join the European Union. Yet, Kosovo’s main ethnic Serb party, Srpska Lista, or Serbian List, which has close ties with Belgrade, had called for a boycott of Sunday’s poll.

Only 253 out of 46,556 registered voters cast their ballots in all four municipalities. For the mayors to be ousted, a majority vote is needed. No ballots at all were cast in the Zvecan municipality.

Kosovo election officials unload the ballot boxes and polling station materials in North Mitrovica, Kosovo

“That is why we note that the citizens’ initiative to oust the mayors of the municipalities of Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Zvecan and North Mitrovica has failed,” Kreshnik Radoniqi, head of the Central Election Commission, said.

The result leaves the same tense status quo in northern Kosovo and its EU-facilitated negotiations to normalise ties with neighbouring Serbia. No developments are expected in the months ahead.

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani accused Belgrade of exerting pressure on Serbs in Kosovo to boycott the referendum.

“Once again Serbia interfered illegally in the election process of another country. Once again (Serbian President Aleksandar) Vucic has not kept his word given to international partners (not to interfere),” Osmani said.

Srpska Lista acknowledged that it wanted “to replace these fake mayors in our municipalities, but we didn’t want to play games directed by the regime in Pristina.” The party accused Kurti’s government of exerting pressure on ethnic Serbs in the north with its police presence.

Kosovo was a former Serbian province until a 78-day NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ended a war between Serbian government forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. The campaign left about 13,000 dead, mainly ethnic Albanians, and pushed Serbian forces out. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence.

The United States and the EU are struggling to resume the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. Talks between the two have stalled after a Kosovo police officer and three Serb gunmen were killed in a shootout after about 30 masked men opened fire on a police patrol near the Kosovo village of Banjska in September.

Brussels has warned both parties that refusal to compromise jeopardises Serbia and Kosovo’s chances of joining the bloc.

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