Serbs boycott elections in Kosovo’s north

Serbs boycott elections in Kosovo’s north
The Serb List, the main party representing Kosovo's Serbs, called for a boycott of the vote. / Serb List
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje April 23, 2023

Extraordinary local elections were held in four municipalities in northern Kosovo on April 23. The voting was boycotted by the main Kosovo Serb party, the Serb List, and Kosovo's central election commission said that the turnout was only 3.47%.

This has raised concerns about the legitimacy of the election results, and the impact on the future relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

The Serb List called for a boycott of the vote, as its key demands - the formation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities (ASM) and the withdrawal of Kosovo’s special forces from the north of the country – were not met. However, the Kosovan government and EU officials encouraged citizens to go to the polls.

The elections were scheduled after Serbs from the north submitted collective resignations from Kosovo’s institutions last November in protest against Pristina's refusal to acknowledge car number plates issued by Belgrade to Serbs in Kosovo.

This is the first boycott of any elections in Kosovo by the Serb List since Belgrade and Pristina reached the Brussels agreement in 2013 on the normalisation of their relations.

Serbian officials called the election a "complete failure". Goran Rakic, president of the Serb List, wrote on Facebook, “Boycott of illegitimate and illegal elections due to the non-implementation of all signed agreements.”

As Kosovo Serbs did not participate in the elections in North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok, mayoral posts were won by Kosovo Albanian parties.  PM Albin Kurti's ruling Vetevendosje won two municipalities, and the Democratic Party of Kosovo the other two, Kosovan broadcaster RTK reported.

According to Petar Petkovic, the director of Serbia's Office for Kosovo and Metohija, the elections were undemocratic. "1,566 Albanians and only 13 persons of Serbian nationality took part in the elections," Petkovic said.

He added that the Serbs showed their unity by boycotting the elections and that there is no normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina without the formation of the ASM.

On the day of the elections, the streets of the north of Kosovo were reportedly empty, with only policemen next to the voting stations and KFOR vehicles.

Moreover, the leading candidate for mayor of Leposavic, from the small Party of Kosovo Serbs, Aleksandar Jablanovic, announced on April 20 the withdrawal of his own candidacy and those of his party candidates, citing lack of conditions to hold and election.

Kurti said earlier that election must be held as the vacuum in the institutions can not be tolarated.

Kosovo's Minister of Internal Affairs Xhelal Svecla emphasised during the election day that the voting process went well and that the Kosovo police has been prepared for all scenarios.

He told RTK that the government is interested in making the north the same as the rest of Kosovo, and that these elections will neutralise "Belgrade's blackmail". 

The US embassy in Pristina released a statement saying that the elections in four municipalities in northern Kosovo were conducted in line with constitutional and legal requirements.

The embassy expressed regret that not all parties exercised their democratic right to participate in the elections. Despite this, the US remains committed to cooperating with all relevant parties in determining next steps. The statement also reiterated the importance of implementing the Ohrid agreement in full, underscoring the US commitment to the region.

Even though the minimum turnout is not required for elections to be successful, the Serb List party has questioned the legitimacy of any government institutions elected by a handful of voters.

The Serb List won by far the most votes in all four municipalities in previous elections, gaining around 90% of the votes.

In a recent interview Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic expressed anger towards the international community for insisting that extraordinary mayoral elections be held in the four majority-Serb municipalities despite the boycott by the main Kosovo Serb party.

A day before the elections, Serbia held a military exercise named Granit 2023, showcasing its military power with modern weapons, equipment and aircraft.

More than 5,000 members of the Ministry of Defense and the army, 2,300 weapons and military equipment and 60 aircraft were engaged in the demonstration of the capabilities of the Serbian army. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, in the presence of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and guests from Bosnia's Republika Srpska, toured weapons and military equipment at Batajnica airport.

Vucic and Kurti met on March 18 in Ohrid, North Macedonia, where they agreed to implement the agreement that will lead to normalisation of their relations. The formation of the ASM was one of the priority issues but Kosovo’s authorities failed to take any actions to implement this obligation despite the insistence on this by the international community.

The next high level meeting is scheduled for May 2 but according to an announcement by Vucic not much is expected from it.