Sunday, November 15, 2009
Kosovo conducts first election as independent nation
Low turnout by European standards failed to dim the excitement among government leaders in Pristina on Sunday as voters in Kosovo went to the polls for its first local election since declaring itself independent from Serbia last year. "Today we are showing that our country and its citizens have deserved independence, democracy and the European Union perspective," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci exulted after the vote, according to the Reuters international news service. Forty-five percent of Kosovo's 1.5 million voters turned out for the balloting, in which the population chose mayors and councilmembers in the new country's 36 municipalities. Winners will not be determined until runoff elections next month. Some analysts blamed the low turnout on frustration over the country's sluggish economy and 40 percent unemployment rate, Reuters said. "The faith is lost in Kosovo because of high corruption among the political parties," said Halil Matoshi, a local analyst. "People that vote today are mainly party militants." That's certainly possible, but it's a little hard to believe that the population of a brand new country that fought so hard to be independent would be jaded by politics. The turnout also was impacted by Serbian calls for a boycott by voters of Serbian descent, who make up seven percent of Kosovo's population. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO bombers drove Serbian forces from the then-province to stop the killing of ethnic Albanians, who make up 88 percent of the population. Kosovo's independence has only been recognized by 63 countries, primarily Western nations, including the United States. Serbia and Russia have refused to recognize the new country. Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe, with a per capita income of $2,300 annually, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.