The election is the sixth parliamentary poll for Europe's youngest country since 2008, when it declared independence from Serbia.

Supporters of Vetevendosje (Self-determination) party attend the final campaign rally in Pristina, Kosovo, February 12, 2021.
Supporters of Vetevendosje (Self-determination) party attend the final campaign rally in Pristina, Kosovo, February 12, 2021. (Reuters)

An anti-establishment party is expected to take the lead in parliamentary elections in Kosovo, complicating Western efforts to broker an end to a territorial dispute with Serbia that has hobbled its 13 years of independence.

Kosovars will head to the polls on Sunday to choose new members of its 120-seat parliament.

The election is the sixth parliamentary poll for Europe's youngest country since 2008, when it declared independence from Serbia.

It comes after the Constitutional Court ruled the parliamentary vote that saw Avdulah Hoti installed as prime minister was invalid because a lawmaker who made the new government's majority possible, Etem Arifi, was convicted of fraud.

The government, which was elected by 61 deputies in parliament, fell after the decision of the Court.

The Court asked acting-President Vjosa Osmani to announce the date of early elections within 40 days.

Osmani dissolved parliament on January 7 and announced February 14 as Election Day.

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Vetevendosje party gains traction

The Vetevendosje party's growing popularity has shifted the political balance in the small Balkan state, which declared independence from Serbia nine years after NATO bombing ended a crackdown on separatists by then-Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Opinion polls predict it will win between 45 and 55 percent of the vote among ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the 1.9 million population. That would be nearly double its score in 2019 although it may still need a partner to govern.

Serbia, backed by Russia, does not recognise Kosovo's independence, citing the need to protect the rights of its Serb minority. Numerous EU and US negotiators have failed to secure a compromise to allow it to join international organisations such as the United Nations and NATO.

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No compromise with Serbia: Vetevendosje

Vetevendosje argues there can be no compromise with Serbia and has campaigned against widespread graft in Kosovo during two decades of rule by parties led by former separatist fighters.

A Facebook campaign has won it support among young people, including the many who have moved abroad to try to find work. One in three people are unemployed in what is the poorest country in the Western Balkans.

Faton Byqmeti, 27, flew in from France to cast his ballot.

"It would be good to get rid of the thieves," he told Reuters.

"We hope the Vetevendosje people will do something, that’s why we came from abroad to vote."

Vetevendosje may have to join forces with either the now-ruling Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) or Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), but analysts foresaw a change in the political elite.

"Those ruling Kosovo for the past 20 years will be thrown out of political life in Kosovo and we will see new politicians," said Nexhmedin Spahiu, a 55-year-old professor from the northern town of Mitrovica, home to many ethnic Serbs.

Naim Rashiti an analyst with the Balkans Policy Research Group said Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti would face the same dilemmas as his predecessors over how to fortify Kosovo's independence.

Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, whose AAK party could emerge as a king-maker, says Kosovo should not be held hostage to a deal with Serbia.

"We might as well look for other options and another option would be referendum and becoming a union with Albania," he told Reuters. 

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1.8 million voters

Nearly 1.8 million registered voters will cast votes at nearly 882 polling stations, according to Kosovo's Central Election Commission.

While its current population is about 1.8-1.9 million, according to the World Bank and other sources, the Balkan nation has a large expatriate population that is eligible to vote, with more than half of its overall populace younger than 25.

The election campaigns launched by the candidates February 3 will continue until midnight February 12.

While the campaigns were under the shadow of coronavirus restrictions, photos shared on social media showed almost all major political party leaders and supporters did not comply with restrictions and violated relevant laws.

The Pristina Municipality Inspectorate also applied criminal action against political parties for violations.

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Political organisations, prime minister candidates

Three candidates are competing for the prime minister's post.

The Self-determination Movement (LVV) candidate is Kurti; Enver Hoxhaj for the PDK and the LDK candidate is Hoti.

The AAK-PSD Coalition, led by former Prime Minister Haradinaj, did not nominate a candidate.

The AAK, which led its campaign under the slogan, "Kosovo's power," pledged to create a 1 billion-euro fund to stimulate the economy.

Haradinaj is expected to be a candidate in the presidential election.

Meanwhile, Acting President Osmani will be the joint candidate for president of the LVV.

Two Turkish parties, the Turkish Democratic Party of Kosovo (KDTP) and the Innovative Turkish Movement Party (YTHP) will compete. KDTP led by Fikrim Damka has 26 nominees and YTHP led by Ertan Simitci has nominated 12.

The election’s main issues include work, education, justice, health, stability, normality and development.

Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which considers the country its territory, has not been a prominent issue in campaigns.

Also, no candidate has promised EU visa liberalisation for Kosovars.

The Assembly of Kosovo is made up of 120 deputies, 10 of whom are representatives of the Serbian community and 10 from other minority communities.

The Turkish community has two seats in parliament.

Political instability

Since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, the country has held five general elections and since then no government has stayed in power until the end of its three-year term.

It has led to serious political instability by coalitions that came to the government with great difficulties and gained an absolute majority in parliament but failed due to opposing views on issues in domestic and foreign policy.

Because it is a country with multiparty, proportional representation that guarantees the place of minorities in parliament, no party in Kosovo has been able to achieve a majority in the parliament, and disagreements between coalitions have led to early elections.

In Kosovo's last general election in 2019, the turnout was 45%.

The former Serbian province of Kosovo declared independence February 17, 2008, and is recognised by more than 100 countries, including the US, the UK, France, Germany and Turkey.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies