December 14, 2010 / 2:02 AM / in 8 years

Kosovo PM's party leads, coalition talks loom

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s PDK party made the strongest showing in Sunday’s general election with almost all votes counted, the Election Commission said on Monday, but could have trouble forming a coalition.

Supporters of Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) celebrate in Pristina December 13, 2010. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's PDK party was set to win in Sunday's election in Kosovo, according to exit polls released after its first general election since independence ended calmly on Sunday. REUTERS/Oleg Popov

The PDK won 33.5 percent of the votes, followed by the LDK, a former coalition ally of the PDK, with 23.6 percent, on a turnout of 47.8 percent of 1.6 million eligible voters, the Commission said.

Forming a government may be difficult because the three largest parties after the PDK have said they will not join a Thaci-led coalition.

The LDK and other parties complained of irregularities and said they would ask for a re-run of the vote in two constituencies, Thaci strongholds where turnout was dramatically higher than the national average.

“The turnout of 94 percent is statistically impossible, logically unreasonable, politically unacceptable and legally contestable in Kosovo’s reality,” LDK spokesman Arben Gashi said of one such constituency. He said his party would ask for a re-run in places where they believed their votes were stolen.

“We shall use all legal means to bring legitimacy and democracy all over Kosovo.”

European monitors said they were aware of the fraud allegations. “Serious allegations of fraud in two municipalities have been brought to the attention of the delegation,” said Doris Pack, head of a European Parliament observer mission.

“I do not think it will undermine the whole process,” she said, adding it was a “generally well-organised election day.”

The European Union and the United States see the election — Kosovo’s first since independence — as a test of its democratic maturity, and free and fair proceedings were a condition for eventual membership of the 27-member bloc.

The U.S. ambassador in Pristina, Christopher Dell, whose country is the biggest supporter of Kosovo independence, said he had seen irregularities in the town of Skenderaj.

“The ballots in the box exceeded the number of signatures in the voters’ book,” Dell said in a statement.

Democracy in Action, a group of Kosovo non-governmental organisations with 5,000 observers, said it had also recorded “vote manipulation” in the two regions.

PDK officials have asked other parties to file complaints if they have proof that the vote was manipulated.

In Brussels, the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fuele urged authorities to press ahead with forming a new government.

“It is important now to rapidly form a new government and to elect a new president so that they can tackle the many challenges ahead,” they said. “We have much work ahead of us in the coming year so that Kosovo can further advance towards the EU.”

Experts said it would take time to form a government.

“The PDK will have a difficult time to create a government because the other three biggest parties have said they will not govern with Thaci,” said Krenar Gashi of the think tank KIPRED. “The king maker will be the reserved seats for the minorities.”

The constitution reserves 20 seats for minorities, 10 for Serbs, the biggest minority, and 10 for others.

Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up 92 percent of the population of 2.2 million, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbs still dominate the north of the country.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Adam Tanner and Tim Pearce

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