A moderate ethnic Albanian party won Kosovo's first free and democratic postwar elections, claiming the right to lead the province alongside the United Nations and NATO, election organizers said Monday.
Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo won just over 46 percent of the vote, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said. The win gave him a mandate to lead the province being rebuilt after war and a decade of oppression under former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
However, he lacked the margin to rule alone.
A coalition of parties representing Kosovo's minority Serbs finished third with just under 11 percent, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian party, followed with 7.8 percent of the vote.
Rugova has pledged to lead Kosovo to independence.
Voters elected legislators to serve in a 120-seat assembly that in turn will choose a president and form a provincial administration.
Elected administrators will govern alongside U.N. officials and NATO-led peacekeepers who took control of the province after 78 days of NATO airstrikes. The alliance launched the air war to force Milosevic to end his crackdown on ethnic Albanian militants.
Ethnic Albanians mobbed polling stations Saturday to vote in a race many saw as a leap toward independence a concept that frightened some minority Serbs into staying home. Many Serbs feared the election would dilute the influence of the central government in Belgrade and push Kosovo further away from Yugoslavia.
The Kosovo Serb vote had been in doubt until the final hours of the ballot, when crowds suddenly rushed to the polls. Some apparently waited until darkness, fearing they could face intimidation on their way to the polls.
Oliver Ivanovic, a moderate Kosovo Serb candidate from the ethnically-divided northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica, said Monday he was "most satisfied" with election results and the unexpectedly large turnout of Kosovo Serbs.
Reflecting a deep division in the Serb community, however, hard-line Serbs decried the vote as a worthless failure.
"These elections were a sloppily written love story in which everyone is supposed to have a happy ending," said Marko Jaksic, a local Serb leader who had campaigned for a boycott of the vote.
Jaksic claimed that only one in 20 Serbs in Mitrovica voted, "proving what a huge failure the U.N. mission has been."
Dozens of erbs have been killed in attacks in revenge for Milosevic's crackdown, which killed at least 10,000 people. Tens of thousands of Serbs have fled the province since forces loyal to Milosevic were ousted after the NATO airstrikes.
Though the question of independence was not on the ballot, many ethnic Albanians saw the vote as step toward eventual sovereignty.
Rugova has done little to dispel the view, saying that the progress the province had made in the last two years combined with the peaceful vote suggested that Kosovo was ready to break free from Belgrade.
By Danica Kirka
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