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Voting centers are closed in the north of Kosovo, marked lack of citizens voting

Voting centers are closed in the north of Kosovo, marked lack of citizens voting

All voting centers in the four municipalities in the north of Kosovo were closed on Sunday at 19:00. The Central Election Commission (CEC) said that until 15:00, 203 people voted in the votes for the dismissal or not of the municipal mayors. According to the spokesperson of the CEC, Valmir Elez, 122 people voted in Leposavic, 17 in Zubin Potok, and 64 in North Mitrovica.

Until 15:00, nobody has voted in Zveçan. This process was organized as Lista Serbe, the main party of Serbs in Kosovo, which enjoys the support of official Belgrade, has called for a boycott of the votes. The network of non-governmental organizations, Democracy in Action (DnV), said that "the voting process throughout the day was characterized by a marked lack of interest from citizens to participate in the vote, despite the fact that in January over 20% of citizens with voting rights had signed the petition for the removal of the mayors in the four municipalities of northern Kosovo".

According to him, no incident was reported during the day. Most of the polling stations opened at 07:00, except for some that opened a few minutes late due to technical reasons. The network of non-governmental organizations, DnV, has criticized the CEC for delays in informing citizens where the voting centers are.

According to him, the placement of surveillance cameras in polling stations may constitute a violation of the secrecy of the vote, due to the position where they are placed. The CEC has said that for the first time surveillance cameras have been installed in these elections and such a practice will continue in the future election processes. The CEC spokesperson, Valmir Elezi, during the press conference, said that regarding the data recorded by surveillance cameras, the same will be destroyed together with the electoral material, after the voting.

"The CEC does not supervise or monitor the recording or operation of these online. So there is no special room where you watch these videos on the screens. Access to these videos can only be done by decision of the CEC institutions, the PZAP [Panel Electoral Office for Complaints and Submissions], the prosecution or the courts if there are any cases that are handled in these institutions," he said.

The State Prosecutor, in cooperation with the Kosovo Police, is supervising the voting process in the north. This process is also being monitored by the European Union through 17 teams with 60 members. The Kosovo Police told Radio Free Europe that the security situation in the north of Kosovo is calm.

"There was no problem with the voting process. Both yesterday and today the situation is calm and in fact we have not had any information related to the destabilization of the situation. We have enough police if there is a need for a response", said the deputy director of the Kosovo Police for the northern region, Veton Elshani.

For these votes, in North Mitrovica, Zveçan, Zubin Potok and Leposavič, 46,556 people have the right to vote, or 1,461 more voters compared to the local elections held on April 23, 2023, when the Albanian mayors were elected.

In North Mitrovica, 18,796 people have the right to vote. In Leposavic, this number is 13,674. In Zveçan, 7,209 people have the right to vote, while in Zubin Potok, 6,877 people have the right to vote. For the vote to dismiss the mayors to be considered successful, 50 percent plus one voter will have to vote in the respective municipalities.

In the four municipalities in the north there are 23 polling stations, with 63 polling stations and four centers for conditional voting. According to the CEC, there are eight polling stations in Leposavic, while there are five in Zveçan, Zubin Potok and North Mitrovica - a much lower number of polling stations in the north than the 43 that were originally approved by the CEC.

In the last meeting of the CEC held the day before the elections, it was said that the principals of the 33 schools in the north - which work according to the Serbian system - have said that they have "school activities" and cannot use the facilities for the voting process. Therefore, the CEC has decided that some alternative facilities will be converted into polling stations.

The extraordinary elections of April 2023, which were held after the withdrawal of the Serbs from the institutions of Kosovo, at the end of 2022, as a sign of dissatisfaction with the decision on the license plates of the Government of Kosovo, were boycotted by the Serbian parties and population.

As a result, the leadership of Leposaviq was taken by Lulzim Hetemi from the Vetëvendosje Movement, that of Zubin Potok by Izmir Zeqiri from the Democratic Party of Kosovo, the leadership of Zveçan was entrusted to Ilir Peci from the PDK, while Erden Atiq was elected as the head of North Mitrovica from the Vetëvendosje Movement.

In May 2023, when these mayors - excluding Atiq - went to their offices to start their mandate, they were faced with a revolt of the local population, who protested in front of the municipal buildings, which at the same time were municipal facilities that function according to the Serbian system.

The situation escalated on May 29 in Zveçan, after clashes between protesters and members of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, KFOR. As a result, dozens of people were injured on both sides. The international factor called on Kosovo to organize new elections. In September 2023, the Government of Kosovo issued an administrative instruction that allowed citizens to follow certain procedures to dismiss mayors. According to the instructions, the Serbs, through petitions, collected 20 percent of the necessary signatures - from the total number of registered voters - and the CEC set April 21 as the date of the vote.

According to the instruction, it will take 50 percent, plus one vote, from the list of voters to vote for the dismissal of the mayor of the respective municipality. Then, the result is sent to the president, Vjosa Osmani, who has 30 to 45 days to announce the elections. While the CEC had already started the procedures for organizing the votes, Lista Serbe – the largest party of Serbs in Kosovo that enjoys the support of Belgrade – announced on April 7 that it would boycott the votes.

The head of this party, Zlatan Ellek, complained that the authorities have established "unfeasible procedures" for the April 21 vote and that the voter lists "do not reflect the real situation on the ground", arguing that the number of Albanians on the voter lists " has grown".

"The position of the Serbian List is not to participate in the referendum called by Albin Kurti [Prime Minister of Kosovo], because he did everything to make it fail," he said.

In the following days, Lista Serbe withdrew its members from the Municipal Electoral Commissions. The decision of the Serbian List to boycott the votes was criticized by the European Union, which called on this entity to reconsider the decision and not call for a boycott.

The Minister of Local Government Administration, Elbert Krasniqi, visited the polling stations in Leposavic on April 21. Speaking about the boycott of the Serbian List, Krasniqi said that this party wants to have the "monopoly" on the politics of the Serbs in Kosovo.

"Lista Serbe wants to have a monopoly on the politics of Serbs in Kosovo. They see the institutions only for themselves and not for the citizens. They continue to have seats reserved for the Serbian community in the Assembly of Kosovo and do not represent the interests of the citizens, but receive the salaries of the Assembly of Kosovo. Now citizens, even by voting, declare whether they are for the removal of the mayors or not", said Krasniqi.

The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Kurti, meanwhile, on April 19 called on the Serbs to vote if they want to dismiss the presidents, arguing that they can only be dismissed through votes, "not gangs". He said that if the citizens decide to dismiss the mayors, the Government guarantees that this decision will be implemented "quickly".


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