The vote was the first held over the entire territory of Kosovo since the country declared its independence in 2008.
By Harriet Salem for Southeast European Times in Mitrovica -- 05/11/13
OSCE observers leave a polling station in the northern Mitrovica after an incident on November 3rd. [AFP]
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said the state successfully met international standards for a legitimate election by having 22 percent turnout in its Serbian-dominated north on Sunday (November 3rd), despite the actions of masked attackers who stormed three polling stations in Mitrovica, releasing tear gas, smashing ballot boxes and stealing the votes.
Meeting with reporters on Monday, Thaci said he was satisfied with the results of the election, which saw Serbian representatives successfully elected in three northern Kosovo municipalities.
Sunday's election, the first held over the entire territory of Kosovo since the country declared its independence in 2008, was an opportunity for Serb-dominated municipalities in Kosovo's north to be incorporated into Kosovo's legal system as agreed to by both sides earlier this year. More than 1.7 million people, including an estimated 120,000 Serbs, were eligible to vote for candidates for mayor and local representatives.
A successful municipal vote in the Serb-dominated north would support Serbia's contention that it is ready to start negotiations with the EU despite not recognising its breakaway republic as an independent country.
Much of the problems in Sunday's election were in the ethnically-divided city of Mitrovica, which has been a frequent flashpoint for violence and tension, both during and after the 1990s conflicts between ethnic Albanians and Serbs.
Ballots from northern Mitrovica were lost and unlikely to be recovered, according to an OSCE spokesman.
"The violence and intimidation represents a very serious failure on the part of the EU and NATO," James Ker-Lindsay, senior research fellow focusing on southeast Europe at the London School of Economics, told SETimes. "Ultimately, they were meant to be the guarantors of peace and stability. Questions will need to be asked as to why they were unable adequately to protect polling stations and the integrity of the process more generally."
A woman balances her child after arriving at the Sveti Sava polling station in northern Mitrovica. [Harriet Salem/SETimes]
Sixteen people were arrested for acts impeding the election process in northern Kosovo, Tanjug reported.
Turnout was much better -- consistently greater than 50 percent -- in Serb communities south of the Iber River.
"This confirms that this part of the Serbian community in Kosovo is fully reconciled to their position and will no doubt come as a relief to Pristina as well as to its key international supporters," Ker-Lindsay said.
The Central Election Commission in Kosovo has stated "it will decide on the matter after reviewing the course of the election" in Mitrovica.
"The tremendous success of the strong-arm tactics to intimidate people not to vote shows northern Kosovo is not simply a political problem that can be resolved at a negotiating table in Brussels, but also a complex problem about a lack of rule of law that needs to be tackled locally," Krenar Gashi, executive director of the Institute for Development Policy in Pristina, told SETimes.
"The police didn’t react at all to the intimidation of voters," Oliver Ivanovic, former state secretary in the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo and leader of the citizens' initiative Serbia, Democracy, Justice in northern Mitrovica, told SETimes. "When an individual walks past to check the security situation and sees extremists at the door they will not bring their family to vote, because they do not want their family to be attacked."
Those who braved the polling stations expressed concerns for their safety.
"Of course I am worried. Look outside and tell me how you could not? But it is a duty to vote. We need to think of our future," Jelena Stankovic, who was voting at the Sveti Sava polling station, told SETimes.
Correspondent Ivana Jovanovic contributed to this report.
How will the election and the violence in northern Mitrovica affect Serbia's hopes to join the EU? Add your thoughts in the comment area below.