Kosovo is holding an early parliamentary elections that the leftist-nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party is expected to win by a landslide.
Some 1.8 million eligible voters started to cast their ballots on February 14 as nearly 2,400 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time. They're electing 120 lawmakers among more than 1,000 candidates from 28 political groupings.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the voters are required to wear masks and keep at least a 2-meter distance in polling stations. Election officials said that those infected by the coronavirus will be able to vote through mobile polling teams.
Some 100,000 Kosovars living abroad are also eligible to vote by post. Some 43,000 votes from the diaspora have already arrived in Kosovo.
The polling stations will remain open through 7 p.m. and the first official results are expected a few hours later.
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Opinion polls predict Vetevendosje will win between 40 percent and 50 percent of the vote.
The national elections are the fifth since independence. They were called on short notice by acting President Vjusa Osmani after the Constitutional Court ruled that the parliamentary vote electing a new government in June was unconstitutional.
Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti addresses supporters at an electoral rally in Podujevo on February 8.
The court ruled on December 21 that the election of Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was illegal because one member of parliament who voted for the government had previously served time in prison.
Since then, the campaign has featured disqualifications of senior politicians, including Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti, based on the same law.
A coalition government led by Kurti lasted just two months last year before it was toppled by a no-confidence vote based on its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kurti has won support for Vetevendosje based on pledges to fight widespread corruption and on a stance that there should be no compromise in a dialogue with Serbia, which lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after a NATO bombing campaign to stop Serbian forces from overrunning the territory.
In a televised address on February 12, Kurti said dialogue with Serbia was 'not one of the first priorities.'
Albin Kurt on the campaign trail in Pristina earlier this week.
He has also said that multiple reforms would be on the new government's agenda.
'We plan to focus on the strengthening of our state, and two key concerns of the citizens of Kosovo are jobs and justice,' Kurti said in an interview last week with the Associated Press.
Nearly one-quarter of Kosovo's workers were unemployed at one point last year, according to the national statistics agency. The World Bank says the coronavirus pandemic slowed the country's growth by 4.5 percent in 2020.
Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo's independence, but Serbia, backed by Russia, does not, and normalization talks have stalled. The situation has blocked Kosovo from joining international organizations such as the United Nations and NATO.
While Vetevendosje could finish with nearly double the percentage of votes it garnered in 2019, it may still need a partner to form a government.
Depending on the outcome, it may have to join forces with either the now-ruling Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) or the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK). Each of those parties has received about 20 percent in recent voter polls.
The former leaders of the PDK are on trial at an international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where they face war crimes and other charges related to the war.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
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