EU Hopes Kosovo Can Form Government Swiftly After Election

A senior European Union official has expressed hope that Kosovo will soon get a new government following snap parliamentary elections that left no party in a position to govern without what could be tough efforts to build a coalition.

"The outcome is definitely one which is not creating immediately a clear majority for a government, and I hope that it doesn't take again up to nine months as it was the case last time, because it is so important for this country to stay committed to reform," EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in Brussels on June 12.

"For us it is crucial that the country and its representatives are committed to the European perspective," Hahn said, adding that "better living conditions [are] only achievable embedded into the European Union."

Preliminary results suggest the ruling center-right Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won the most votes in the June 11 elections, but it appeared unlikely to have won enough seats to govern even with its planned coalition partners.

The vote also confirmed the strong rise of the nationalist Self-Determination Movement (VV) party, which nearly doubled its support since the last elections and looked set to finish second in the overall vote.

With more than 90 percent of the ballots counted, the coalition headed by the PDK of President Hashim Thaci was leading with 34.65 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission. The PDK coalition includes former Prime Minister and rebel leader Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK).

The nationalist VV, also known as Vetevendosje, had 26.59 percent of the vote, just ahead of a coalition led by outgoing Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which had 25.82 percent.

If those results are borne out, no single group would be able to govern alone, making further coalition attempts likely.

Turnout was put at 41.79 percent in Kosovo's third elections since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The country is recognized by 114 other countries but not by Serbia and Russia.

Haradinaj, the PDK-led coalition's candidate for prime minister, declared victory, telling supporters at a rally in Pristina that "we know that there is a lot of work ahead of us. But we are going to achieve them together."

The PDK coalition, with a large number of former guerrilla fighters, has been dubbed the "war wing" by Kosovo's media.

If Haradinaj does assume the prime minister role, it would complicate relations with neighboring Serbia, which has issued an international arrest warrant against him on suspicion of committing war crimes when he was a guerrilla fighter during Kosovo's 1998-99 independence war.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the victory of hard-liners in the elections will create "a lot of difficulties and problems," but added that the EU-mediated dialogue with Kosovo must continue.

Haradinaj, 48, has been tried twice and acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Haradinaj was elected prime minister of Kosovo in 2004 but resigned after 100 days in order to surrender himself for trial in The Hague. He has denied all charges.

His coalition and allies appeared unlikely to get the 51 seats in the 120-member parliament needed to govern.

Parliamentary rules reserve 20 seats for ethnic Serbs and other minorities. The PDK is looking to form a coalition with the 10 deputies representing the non-Serbian minorities, including ethnic Turks and Roma.

Many of Kosovo's 1.8 million inhabitants blame politicians from all sides for a stubbornly high unemployment rate that hovers around one-third of workforce despite solid economic expansion of about 4 percent annually in one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Other key priorities the next government faces include establishing better control over privatization and creating a functioning war crimes court and prosecution office, which would start the process of sidelining wartime leaders from political and public life.

Yet the biggest issues surrounding the vote are a pair of agreements signed in 2015: one setting the border with Montenegro and another with Serbia that increases powers held by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.

Those issues have helped stall reforms in the legislature and angered the electorate in a country where about one-third of the population is under the age of 15.

"For more than a year we didn't have a functional government, and now I don't trust them," said Islam Fehmiu, a retiree from the capital, Pristina.

"Parliament couldn't finish its sessions. I have very low hopes. The preelection coalitions are looking out only for their own interests and I absolutely think they won't solve ongoing issues such as border demarcation with Montenegro," Fehmiu added.

The election marked the rise of the Self-Determination Movement, which was a disruptive opposition force in the previous parliament and would make any coalition-building difficult. VV supporters at one time released tear gas inside parliament and threw firebombs outside it to protest the deals with Montenegro and Serbia.

Albin Kurti, the party's candidate for prime minister, said the VV would fight corruption, jail former officials, end talks with Serbia, and seek a closer union with neighboring Albania.

With reporting by Alan Crosby, Amra Zejneli in Pristina, Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, AP, BBC, and Reuters