Serbs boycott referendum on removal of ethnic Albanian mayors in northern Kosovo

Serbs boycott referendum on removal of ethnic Albanian mayors in northern Kosovo
North Mitrovica, seen from the Ibar Bridge that separates the Serb and Albanian parts of the city. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews April 21, 2024

Turnout was extremely low at referendums in four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo, where residents cast their votes on April 21 in a crucial referendum aimed at removing incumbent Albanian mayors from office. 

The dissatisfaction with the current mayoral leadership stems from the aftermath of the April 2023 local elections, where Kosovo Serbs boycotted the polls, leading to the appointment of mayors from ethnic Albanian parties on minimal turnouts.

However, in the referendum on whether to remove the mayors, Kosovo’s central election commission reports a lack of citizen participation.

As of 3.30pm local time, just over 200 people had voted out of the  estimated 46,500 residents that were eligible to participate in the referendum across 47 polling stations. 

The affected municipalities are Leposaviq, Zubin Potok, Zvecan, and North Mitrovica, which are predominantly populated by ethnic Serbs.

To remove the mayors, a majority vote of 50% +1 vote is required, making the turnout critical for the referendum's outcome. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has printed 40,000 ballot papers for the referendum.

This decision follows a period of heightened tensions and political unrest, with citizens expressing dissatisfaction with the current mayoral leadership. The initiative gained momentum when residents signed petitions in mid-January, calling for the dismissal of the incumbent mayors.

Giovanni Pietro Barbano, head of the EU mission for security and defence (EULEX), has spoke of the importance of monitoring the security situation around polling stations in the four northern municipalities.

Dusan Radakovic, executive director of the Center for the Representation of Democratic Culture, highlighted the low voter turnout and technical issues encountered during the voting process. Security camera placements near ballot boxes raised concerns about privacy and transparency, Kosovo-online reported.

In Zveçan, reports indicate a lack of citizen participation, with not a single vote cast by early afternoon.

The discontent sparked protests and clashes with Kosovo police and KFOR peacekeepers, prompting demands for new elections and fresh mandates for local leadership. Responding to these calls, the Serb List, the largest political party representing Kosovo Serbs, has expressed readiness to participate in potential new mayoral by-elections.

The decision of Kosovo Serbs not to participate in the referendum will further complicate the already tense situation between Belgrade and Pristina. This tension was exacerbated by Kosovo's ban on the use of dinars on its territory, and Prime Minister Albin Kurti's refusal to allow the establishment of the Community of Serbian Municipalities in the north.