Presidential battle in Kosovo
By Avni Zogiani
PRISTINA, Kosovo -- Kosovars go to the polls on Saturday to vote for a new parliament and president.
The elections are considered important for the future life of the province and have been touted as a reflection of the success of the international community's administration, which has governed the province since summer 1999.
The battle for president -- the troubled province's first since being stripped of autonomy in 1990 -- is being fought between Kosovo's two main ethnic Albanian political parties.
They are the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), headed by the former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) Hasim Thaci; and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), led by veteran activist and historian Ibrahim Rugova. The leaders are archrivals.
The PDK surprised many when it announced that Thaci would not run for president against Rugova.
Instead, the party nominated Flora Brovina, a pediatrician and a poet from Pristina, who rose to prominence after spending 19 months in a Serbian prison on terrorism charges.
Most pundits think that it is unlikely that Brovina will beat Rugova, who still commands tremendous loyalty with Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.
In the battle for seats in the parliament the campaign has been almost a rerun of local elections in November 2000, when all ethnic Albanian parties focused on independence rather than local issues.
Rugova, in his rare public appearances, has talked almost exclusively about independence, and Thaci has also been outspoken on the issue.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority favor independence from Serbia and Yugoslavia. After the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, NATO forced out Serbian security forces and replaced the administration with the U.N. civilian administration in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Many ethnic Albanians see the new parliament as a first step toward independence.
Those seeking independence, however, are likely to be disappointed. The chances of Kosovo winning self-rule look meager as the UNMIK authorities, Belgrade and the international community have grown more lukewarm to the idea.
And the 120-member parliament -- the first since the U.N. took over in 1999 -- does not have the power to decide the province's status but will instead concentrate more on economic and public order issues.
According to the polls, the LDK is leading the race. Index Kosova, a Pristina-based pollster, gave the LDK a 43 percent rating; the PDK has approximately 15 percent; a third, smaller ethnic Albanian party has around 4.5 percent.
The party that will come first is likely to be forced into a coalition with other parties in order to form a government.
In previous elections, Kosovar Serbs have refused to take part in the vote out of protest at the international community's presence. The province's Serbs are still divided over the merits of voting.
This time around, Belgrade leaders have called on Kosovar Serbs to take part in the elections. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said that participation in the elections was a "lesser evil."
Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Artemije, an influential religious leader in Kosovo, formally invited the Serbian population to vote.
Kosovar Serbs are expected to vote for the coalition Povratak ("Return"), a grouping allied to Serbia's ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia.
To encourage Kosovar Serbs back into political participation, the group is guaranteed 10 seats in the 120 seat parliament. Ten more seats are given to the province's other minorities.
The Kosovar Albanian vote is split among three parties whereas Serbs, if they vote, support mainly one.
"If Serbs do vote in sufficient numbers, they may well elect the second or third biggest party in the assembly," presidential candidate Brovina wrote for The New York Times.
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Kosovo Transitional Council
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