Based on 15 percent of votes counted, the electoral commission said the PDK was leading with 31 percent ahead of the main opposition Democratic League of Kosovo on 25 percent.
“Let me confirm that the PDK is a persuasive winner of these elections. According to our count, the PDK emerges as the first party, gaining a convincing and solid majority,” a top PDK official Kadri Veseli told reporters.
An exit poll of a nongovernmental organization also said the PDK was in the lead with 33 percent, trailed by LDK on 30 percent, with a margin of error of two percentage points.
Thaci, a former guerilla chief who has dominated politics since the country declared independence in 2008, is seeking a third mandate, but it is yet to be seen if he will be able to form a government as it is unlikely that he will have enough MPs in the 120-seat parliament to rule alone.
|Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (center) reaches out to supporters of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo celebrating preliminary election results in Kosovo’s capital Pristina on Sunday. (AP-Yonhap)|
The three largest opposition parties during the campaign had said they would not form a coalition with the PDK, following public discontent in Europe’s poorest country over high unemployment and rampant corruption.
The election passed off peacefully with Serbs in Kosovo’s restive northern region taking part for the first time in a general election, which could be a possible boost for the country’s EU hopes.
The Serbs’ participation follows a historic EU-brokered accord between Kosovo and Serbia last year in which Belgrade agreed to recognise Pristina’s authority over the entire territory.
Although Serbia still rejects Kosovo’s full independence, it had encouraged Kosovo Serbs to take part in the vote in order to strengthen its own EU entry talks.
Many of Kosovo’s Serbs, who number around 120,000 in the majority ethnic Albanian country of 1.8 million, have reacted angrily to the agreement and appeared to be reluctant to take part in the polls, but there was no violence as during local elections last November.
The 46-year-old Thaci has faced mounting criticism from voters angry about a sluggish economy and high unemployment.
“Our state is a new European country with huge developing opportunities that we will use in the interest of the people,” Thaci said after casting his ballot in downtown Pristina, accompanied by his wife.
Thaci’s popularity soared when the former guerrilla commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army that had fought Belgrade-controlled armed forces during the 1998-1999 war, declared the break from Serbia six years ago. But analysts say the sheen has started to fade.
Landlocked Kosovo has one of the lowest living standards in Europe, with average monthly wages of $480, nearly half the population living in poverty and some 12 percent in extreme poverty.
Unemployment is stuck at 35 percent, rising to 55 percent among the young, according to the Kosovo Statistics Bureau.
“We had high expectations from independence, but little came true,” a 49-year-old driver said after casting his ballot.
Thaci’s PDK had just 32 MPs in the outgoing parliament and had been ruling with support from a small Albanian party and parties of minority groups including Serbs, Bosniaks and Turks.
Serbs in the north seemed reluctant to take part in the polls, despite the urging from Belgrade.
“Participation ... and support for Serb representatives at this election is the civic and patriotic duty of every Serb citizen in Kosovo,” the Serbian government said in a statement on Thursday.
But in the flashpoint northern town of Mitrovica as in other Serb-dominated towns in the north, few people showed up to cast their ballots, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
However, regardless of the turnout, Serbs are guaranteed 10 seats in the parliament in accordance with the law.
Ever since Belgrade struck its deal with Pristina and began the process of handing control of this enclave over to Kosovo, locals have lost faith that Serbia will look after their interests.
Dragan Maksimovic, a 38-year old lawyer, decided not to vote.
“I do not like the way officials in Belgrade are treating us, trying to convince us that they know what is best for us,” he said.
“It means nothing to have Serb MPs in the Kosovo parliament as they only look to Belgrade and don’t care about our problems.”