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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 08:50 GMT
Q&A: Kosovo's watershed vote
As Kosovo elects its first National Assembly since Yugoslav forces were driven from the province as a result of Nato's bombing campaign in 1999, BBC Balkans analyst Gabriel Partos looks ahead to future developments.

Why are the elections a watershed?

The elections return to Kosovo the extensive self-rule which it once enjoyed within Yugoslavia.

In 1989 Slobodan Milosevic imposed direct rule from Belgrade, and the repression that followed, created growing resentment among Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority who account for well over 80% of its two million inhabitants.

A police crackdown in 1998 triggered an uprising among the ethnic Albanians. Further acts of brutality against Albanian civilians led to a military intervention by Nato to avert, as it put it, "a humanitarian catastrophe".

Since 1999 Kosovo has been run by the United Nations' Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Security has been provided by a Nato-led peacekeeping force, known as K-For.

What are they voting for?

Kosovo's voters will be electing, through a proportional system, a 120-member assembly.

As a form of "positive discrimination", 10 seats are reserved for Serbs and another 10 for the other ethnic minorities, mostly Roma, Turks and Bosniaks.

The assembly will elect a president. The administration will be in the hands of a government, that will need to receive a vote of confidence in the assembly.

The new government will replace the current unelected power-sharing executive which brings together UN officials with representatives of the main local communities.

UNMIK will keep control of foreign affairs, monetary policy, justice and public order. It will also be able to veto all measures that appear to violate UN Resolutions on Kosovo.

K-For will continue to look after defence and security.

Who are the main contenders?

The three ethnic Albanian parties, that emerged with well over 90% of the votes in the October 2000 municipal elections, are expected to repeat their earlier electoral performance.

The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), under its long-standing pacifist leader, Ibrahim Rugova, appears to be on target to garner an overall majority of the vote once again.

The Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), headed by Hashim Thaci, is the political successor to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was disbanded after the conflict. It is hoping to do better than last year when it gained only half as many votes as the LDK.

The Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), led by a former KLA commander Ramush Haradinaj, split away from the PDK last year. It hopes to emerge as a viable third force on the political scene.

Will the Serbs take part?

Kosovo's Serbs boycotted the municipal elections largely in protest against their lack of protection from continuing revenge attacks by ethnic Albanian militants.

This time they have registered to vote. They are also being advised by Belgrade to take part in the elections so that they can have a voice in Kosovo's future.

But there are sections within the politically fragmented Serb minority who are not willing to join the main Serb umbrella group - known as the Coalition for Return - and take part in the elections.

Why now?

UN Resolution 1244 which set up, in effect, a UN protectorate in Kosovo, pledged to establish "substantial autonomy" for the entity.

With two-and-a-half years gone since UNMIK took control of Kosovo, the time is ripe to press on with the objective of handing over some of UNMIK's authority to local representatives.

There is an expectation that it will be easier to integrate the Serb minority into Kosovo's political life if substantial numbers of Serbs turn up to vote.

What about Kosovo's future status?

The international community wants to accommodate a self-governing Kosovo within the framework of Yugoslavia - as envisaged in Resolution 1244.

The election of a new Kosovo administration will make it possible to launch talks - under the UN's aegis - on Kosovo's future status.

For their part, the main Kosovo Albanian parties are united in their demand for independence.

After the elections, the newly-elected authorities are likely to call with even greater vigour for a referendum on the issue.

See also:

14 Nov 01 | Europe
Kosovo gears up for elections
17 Jun 01 | Europe
UN takes peace mission to Kosovo
04 Feb 00 | Europe
Analysis: Protecting the Serbs
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