By NEBI QENA
2010-12-14 09:17 AM
But Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, or PDK, will need coalition partners to govern. And finding them may be difficult because the prime minister's party has been tainted by allegations of high level corruption and reports of election fraud. It was not immediately clear whether Thaci's rivals would accept the election results.
The most likely to collaborate with Thaci are two small parties that finished third and fourth in the voting _ former rebel leader Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and businessman Behgjet Pacolli's Alliance for New Kosovo.
Kosovo's new government will have its plate full, between trying to boost the ailing economy and launching new talks with Serbia, which does not recognized Kosovo's independence.
Thaci's opponents, however, view the vote as an endorsement of a corrupt government that is heading for a collision with Kosovo's Western backers. One of Thaci's closest aides, Transport Minister Fatmir Limaj, is being investigated by European Union police for allegedly embezzling millions of euros from road tenders.
Reflecting international pressure for Thaci to rid his party of corruption, Kosovo's international overseer, Pieter Feith, urged him to create "a government that is clean, competent and credible."
Thaci's PDK finished first in Sunday's election, with 33.5 percent of the vote. In second place was the Democratic League of Kosovo, Thaci's former coalition partner, which drew 23.6 percent. Thaci is unlikely to court that party, though, as it was a falling out between those two parties that led to the early election.
Newcomer Albin Kurti's Self-Determination party, which won 12.2 percent of the votes cast on Sunday, is also an unlikely partner despite sharing a common nationalist background. Kurti criticized Thaci harshly during the campaign and vowed not to enter a coalition with him.
Kurti's presence in parliament could prove difficult for Thaci, who is to enter sensitive talks with Serbia. Kurti advocates unification with Albania and opposes any talks with Serbia.
Trailing were the prime minister's two most likely coalition partners, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, which won 10.8 percent, and the Alliance for New Kosovo, which won 7 percent.
By and large, Serbs in the north of Kosovo, where they are in the majority, heeded calls from Serbia _ which still claims sovereignty over Kosovo _ and boycotted the election. In general, those Serbs living in enclaves surrounded by Albanians took part.
Just over 45 percent of 1.6 million registered voters cast their ballots, officials said.
Doris Pack, a member of the European Parliament, and an election observer, said observers were alerted to possible "serious fraud" in the central region of Drenica, the traditional stronghold of the prime minister's party. She said the high turnout was suspicious and the voting pattern was reminiscent of that in authoritarian countries.
"Can you believe that more than 95 percent went out to vote for the same party?" Pack said. "I don't think that would be possible ... not in a country like Kosovo where we are trying to install a democratic structure."
She urged Thaci to use his authority to stop fraud. It was not immediately clear if a rerun would be needed in poling stations in Drenica.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Dell said "ballots in the box exceeded the number of signatures in the voters' book," in Drenica.
In Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele congratulated Kosovo's voters for the "calm and orderly manner in which the majority of the voting took place."
A joint statement said it was now up to "the competent authorities to certify the results and deal with complaints and appeals in line with the relevant laws and regulations."
Ashton and Fuele said they looked forward to working with the new Kosovo leadership and to facilitating dialogue between Pristina and Serbia.
"We have much work ahead of us in the coming year so that Kosovo can further advance toward the EU," the statement said.
Outside of joining the EU, the two countries are also to start talks aimed at settling disputes, while discussing the future of Kosovo's Serb-run north. Kosovo's leaders say they will not back away from independence, while Belgrade maintains Kosovo is part of Serbia.
Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to the report