An election campaign is under way in Kosovo, the U.N. administered southern Serbian province whose population is 90-percent ethnic Albanian. All the major parties contesting the October 23rd election favor an end to U.N. rule and independence for the province.
Analysts say the key question to be decided by the election is what kind of coalition government will be formed to negotiate with the international community over Kosovo's final status. A determination on what is to happen in Kosovo is likely to be made in 2005 and the government that emerges from the election will have a key role in that process.
As in the last election in 2001, no single party is likely to win a clear majority. The three dominant parties differ less on substance than on leadership style.
The largest party, the Democratic League of Kosova led by the territory's president Ibrahim Rogova, obtained more than 40 percent of the vote in the 2001 ballot. The Democratic Party of Kosova, whose leadership includes many fighters in the guerrilla war against Serbia, got 24 percent. A third party got about eight-percent of the vote.
This year a new party, the Ora Civic Movement, has emerged. Headed by prominent English-speaking journalists with international reputation, Ora hopes to win seats in the Kosovo assembly and play a pivotal role in the new government.
Deputy leader Ilbar Hyba says Ora is focusing on economic issues and targeting undecided voters. "Logically, these people are our target group. And we think the time has come to think more seriously about the policies that should be issue oriented," he said. "That will speak concretely about burning issues like job opportunities, more economic policy, and less corruption."
The unemployment rate in Kosovo stands at 56 percent and economic growth has weakened in recent years. Kosovo's government has limited powers, with real authority being exercised by the U.N. administration.
Kosovo's 10 percent Serbian minority is divided on whether to take part in the election. The Serbian president has advised the 100,000 Serbs in Kosovo to take part, as most did in 2001.
But, the Serbian prime minister strongly advises against participation, saying the Serbian minority is denied basic human rights and remains under constant threat from the Albanian majority. Last March, Kosovo was shaken by anti-Serb riots in which homes and churches were destroyed.
At the Decani monastery 100-kilometers from Pristina, deputy abbot Father Sava, says Serbs have no reason to vote in the election. "No, we will not vote, particularly because we do not really feel free to vote and we do not know for whom to vote here," he said. "But we are not making or exerting any pressure on other people to choose whether they will vote or not."
Determining Kosovo's final status will not be easy. Legally, Kosovo is part of Serbia, which opposes independence for the province. The European Union has not reached consensus on this issue and the United States, while regarded as sympathetic towards independence, has said it will not make a decision until at least the middle of next year.