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EU, US, Civil Society, Query Conditions for North Kosovo Elections

Doubts are growing about the viability of holding extraordinary mayoral elections in northern Kosovo on December 18 in the current unstable atmosphere.

Kosovo authorities face a race against time to create conditions for mayoral elections in the tense Serb-majority North on December 18 with civil society groups and international diplomats pondering whether a vote can be held after a series of violent incidents.

On Thursday, Pristina-based NGO Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, CDHRF, called for a postponement of the elections until “a time when the conditions [for them] are created”.

“Elections are held to ensure political representation which guarantees fulfilment of conditions for citizens without threats to a free vote no matter the ethnic background… in the current circumstances, these conditions are not met,” CDHRF said in a press release.

The European Union called for a careful consideration of circumstances as the authorities try to organize extraordinary mayoral elections in the North following the mass resignation of Serb officials from the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista party in a dispute over car registration plates. The party has submitted no candidates for the upcoming elections.

“When considering the organisation of the by-elections in the north, Kosovo’s authorities need to consider carefully all security, administrative and political factors to ensure that elections are inclusive and held only in peaceful conditions,” Peter Stano, from the EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told BIRN on Wednesday.

Stano said the EU had received an invitation to deploy an election observation mission for the elections for mayors of four municipalities – North Mitrovica, Zvečan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok, scheduled on 18 December 2022, and for early elections for the municipal assemblies of Zvečan and Leposavic, scheduled on December 25.

“Unfortunately, the very short deadlines do not allow the EU to send an electoral mission on this occasion,” Stano said.

“Our methodology … foresees that any EU EOM is deployed well ahead of election day in order to cover and be able to provide detailed analysis all aspects of the electoral process in a final report,” he added.

EU concerns came hours after US Ambassador to Kosovo, Jeff Hovenier, condemned the incidents of Tuesday afternoon, when municipal election offices in Mitrovica North and Zubin Potok were attacked by shock bombs and he also expressed concern over the election atmosphere there.

“The United States is concerned that conditions are not in place at this time for elections to be held later this month in northern Kosovo. The safety and security of all Kosovan citizens should be the highest priority.  We look for all involved to exercise restraint,” Hovenier said.

Kreshnik Radoniqi, head of the Central Election Commission, CEC, said on Tuesday that the CEC cannot put the life of its election officials in danger.

“Under these circumstances, we cannot work according to plan. It is unjust to ask officials to be deployed in a place where there is no security,” he said.

However, the final decision lies with the President.

“The Presidency is in constant inter-institutional contact and if a request for postponement of elections comes, according to Venice Commission practices, President Vjosa Osmani will invite political parties for consultation and take a decision,” Bekim Kupina, a Presidential adviser, was quoted as saying by Radio Free Europe on Wednesday.

The OSCE Mission in Kosovo, which has facilitated elections in northern municipalities before, also condemned the attacks on election offices while expressing concerns over the situation.

“Successful elections require broad participation and public trust in order to deliver a credible outcome accepted by all. The CEC has demonstrated that it has the technical capabilities to run elections that meet international standards,” the OSCE said.

“In doing so, the CEC relies on the support of other Kosovo institutions to put in place all necessary elements, including security assessments for the election process, and a safe environment for all those involved on the ground,” it added.

On Monday, the CEC confirmed that the only ethnic Serb candidate for the post of mayor of North Mitrovica, Aleksandar Arsenijevic, had withdrawn from the race.