Voting polls opened in Kosovo at 7am (0600 UTC); the first time since declaring independence from Serbia last year. Both ethnic Albanians and the minority Serb population may vote for local mayors and councillors, a move seen as testing the government’s capacity to organise its own democratic elections. The territory was run by the United Nations mission before its split from Serbia in February 2008.
On Friday, President Fatmir Sejdiu stressed the importance of the elections. And, calling on the 1.5 million eligible voters to mobilise, said “[t]his Sunday should prove to the world that Kosovo is a stable country that produces peace and stability in the region”.
The Kosovo police have tightened security, and the 13,000 Kosovo Force troops — a NATO-led peacekeeping force — are on standby, according to its commander, General Markus Bentler. Local and international observers will monitor polls.
The main concern is the number of citizens who will vote, as only a 40% turnout level is expected. According to the BBC, most of the 120,000 Serbs oppose Kosovo’s independence. The government in Belgrade and the Serbian Orthodox Church have called for a boycott.
Polling stations are due to close at 7pm (1800 UTC); the first unofficial results are expected late Sunday evening.