Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci claimed victory Monday in the first local elections since the territory seceded from Serbia in 2008. He also hailed the poll as a success despite the boycott of many minority Serbs.
Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci was in a good mood on election day
Preliminary Election Commission results showed that the Kosovo prime minister's party fared best in local elections held on Sunday. Outright victories were announced on Monday evening in 16 of the 36 municipalities, and run-offs will be held in one month's time between the top two contenders in the remaining 20 towns.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won five municipalities, while former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo won four towns.
President Fatmir Sejdiu also considered the result a success
President Fatmir Sejdiu's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) won three towns. Three municipalities will be run by Serb mayors and one municipality by a Turkish Kosovar.
President Sejdiu said the state's Sunday elections were a success, despite a 24-hour delay in announcing the results caused by a failure in a SMS text message system used for relaying figures. Preliminary results were due on Sunday night, but were postponed several times.
European observers who monitored the Sunday polls said the vote had met "many" international standards. But Darko Aleksov, head of the observer mission, noted that "a complex political situation resulted in the inability of a portion of the electorate to exercise its right to vote in some areas."
The polls for municipal councils and mayors only attracted 45 percent of 1.5 million eligible voters as Kosovo sought to show it could organize free, fair and peaceful elections after it declared its independence in February 2008.
Belgrade had called on Serbs to boycott the polls, but some cast ballots in parts of Kosovo. Serbia refuses to recognize the independence of Kosovo, where 90 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian.
Serbia's Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic downplayed the impact of Serb votes.
"In view of enormous pressure and manipulations, the number of Serbs who have voted is irrelevant," he said.
The election was considered a chance for Kosovo prove its free and fair credentials
"All those who have taken part in the polls cannot, in any way, represent Kosovo Serbs, and the Serb community has proved it by boycotting the polls," Bogdanovic told Belgrade daily Politika.
But Kosovo's electoral officials estimated the turnout of minority Serbs in central Kosovo - home to some 80,000 Serbs - to be stronger than expected.
Prime Minister Thaci praised the vote, saying that its citizens "are celebrating because the state of Kosovo has passed the test of democracy.
"We have all risen above party and ethnic flags, uniting around the flag of Kosovo state in order to win, and we have won," Thaci told his supporters gathered at PDK headquarters.
Editor: Kyle James