Agreement paves way for Kosovo Serbs to participate in elections

11/09/2013

Having reached agreement on the look of the ballots for the November 3rd Kosovo elections, the Kosovo Serbs submitted a single election ticket named "Serbia."

By Linda Karadaku and Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Pristina and Belgrade -- 11/09/13

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A successful election is critical for both Kosovo and Serbia's plans for EU integration. [AFP]

Leaders of Kosovo and Serbia made the significant arrangements for Kosovo local elections on September 9th, their last meeting before the elections of November 3rd.

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said in a statement after the meeting in the Brussels that they "took some important decisions to ensure fair elections with the fullest possible participation in the electoral process."

Serbia Prime Minister Ivica Dacic appealed to Kosovo Serbs for full participation in the November elections. Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Edita Tahiri also appealed on the Kosovo Serbs to participate.

"Our call, as the government of the Republic of Kosovo, is that the Serbs of the northern part to participate in as large numbers as possible because the elections are a democratic mechanism that gives them the possibility to elect the legitimate representatives in the municipal governments," Tahiri told SETimes.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci did not give any details, but Dacic said the ballot papers will be "status neutral" and Kosovo Serbs will have their representatives at the polling stations and be allowed to register in the voter lists.

While this was expected south of the Ibar River, in the north, where Pristina's institutions are not operative, there is still discord among the Serbs over whether they should vote in elections called by Pristina. In February 2012, Kosovo Serbs from the north held a referendum in which they overwhelmingly refused to take part in or acknowledge the Pristina institutions.

The start of Belgrade's accession talks with the EU hinge on the agreement with Pristina.

"Serbia has met all the requirements set by the European Council and we are convinced that there are no more obstacles to Serbia's holding the first intergovernmental conference [with the EU] by the end of January 2014 at the latest, and we expect possibly even by the end of December 2013 for the official beginning of membership negotiations between Serbia and the EU," Dacic said.

However, it will in not be easy for Belgrade to carry out the elections in Kosovo, because certain representatives of the ruling parties, which have backed the "Serbia" ticket are opposed to the idea. One of them is the head of the municipality of Kosovska Mitrovica, Dragisa Vlaskovic, who is an official of First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's Serbian Progressive Party. Vlaskovic told reporters he would not vote in the elections, citing the 2012 referendum.

Zvecan municipality chief Dragisa Milovic was also sceptical regarding the Kosovo elections. "I believe that due to the municipalities' negative stance on the elections, the Serbian government will dismantle them," Milovic said.

Former state secretary for Kosovo Oliver Ivanovic has also remained outside of the Belgrade-backed ticket, but has nonetheless decided to participate in the elections with his association, because that is the best way for the Serbs to survive in northern Kosovo.

"The main motive for my candidacy is my resolve to stay in Mitrovica," Ivanovic told SETimes.

He reproached the Serbian government for waiting for so long to unveil the makeup of the ticket and then not including the parties that are not part of the ruling coalition in the ticket.

"This will result in a low turnout among the Serbs, about 10 to 20 percent. But even that may not be so little, given our poor preparation and the Serbian cabinet's preoccupation with other issues," Ivanovic said.

Northern Kosovska Mitrovica citizen Marko Janjic, 35, said he would vote in the upcoming elections.

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"It's not easy, but we have to realize that after the Brussels agreement there will be no Serbian institutions here, rather that we have to fight through the new community that will be created," Janjic told SETimes.

However, Goran Gavranovic, 28, of Zvecan, says that the elections are unacceptable to the Serbs in the north.

"They're bragging about having removed the Kosovo logo from the ballots, but they're fine with the fact that the elections are being organised according to Kosovo laws and that now the north will also be under the jurisdiction of the Kosovo institutions, which has not been the case over the past 14 years," Gavranovic told SETimes.

What is your prediction for the November 3rd election? Add your comment in the space below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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