Initiatives to dismiss mayors in northern municipalities fail

Polling station in the north / Photo: Driton Paçarada - KOHA

Polling station in the north / Photo: Driton Paçarada - KOHA

Photo: Driton Pacharada

Erden Atiq in North Mitrovica, Lulzim Hetemi in Leposaviq, Izmir Zeqiri in Zubin-Potok and Ilir Peci in Zveçan will continue to exercise their mandate for at least one more year. The initiative of Serbian citizens in these four municipalities to dismiss them failed on Sunday. Only 253 citizens participated in the four municipalities

 The initiative of Serbian citizens in the northern municipalities to dismiss the mayors failed on Sunday.

For dismissal, a vote in favor of 50 percent of the electoral body of a municipality, plus one vote, was needed, but at the end of the day barely 250 votes were collected in the four municipalities.

According to the Central Election Commission, 111 eligible voters voted in North Mitrovica, 124 in Leposavic, 18 in Zubin-Potok and none in Zveçan.

In total, over 46 citizens had the right to vote in North Mitrovica, Leposaviq, Zveçan and Zubin-Potok.

The initiative to dismiss the chairmen who come from the ranks of the Albanian parties has been declared failed by the Central Election Commission.

"Relying on the voter turnout data in this process, we inform you that the majority of registered voters did not vote as required by Article 72 of the Law on Local Self-Government in the Republic of Kosovo, so the necessary 50% was not reached, therefore we find that the citizens' initiative to remove the mayors of Leposaviq, Zubin-otok, Zveçan and North Mitrovica municipalities has failed. The Central Election Commission, despite the challenges, has been maximally engaged and has taken all the necessary steps to organize the voting process in these municipalities, proving its great commitment to enable the citizens to realize their democratic and legal right" , stated the chairman of the CEC, Kreshnik Radoniqi, in a press conference after the polls closed.

In the four municipalities, there were 23 voting centers on Sunday. Many of them were improvised in public spaces and in containers, as the illegal structures did not allow the opening of schools operating according to the Serbian system.

The Serbs in the majority boycotted this vote, which they initiated themselves with the petition created in January of this year. Serbian citizens obeyed the call of the Serbian List to boycott the impeachment vote.

President Vjosa Osmani said that Kosovo gave the citizens of the northern municipalities the opportunity to remove the current mayors and elect new ones.

And, according to her, the process was boycotted due to pressure from Belgrade, executed by the Serbian List and illegal criminal structures.

He added that once again Serbia carried out illegal interference in another country's election process and that the president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, violated the word he had given to international partners.

"But Kosovo once again proved prudence, organization and full respect for the laws and the constitution, offering all communities, without distinction, the opportunity to choose for themselves who they want to represent them. I thank the Central Election Commission, our security institutions, as well as our partners for their work, dedication and cooperation. With the organization of today's process, Kosovo has fulfilled all the conditions required by the EU. Unjust measures against Kosovo must be removed immediately", she wrote.

If in Sunday's voting there would be a majority vote in favor of dismissal, then the next step would be the organization of elections in these municipalities.

According to the administrative instruction, after failure, such a process can be carried out only after one year.

Voting in North Mitrovica and Zveçan

There were few voters in all four municipalities, but Zveçani was quite different. No voter voted in this municipality on Sunday.

Voting in this municipality was organized in the municipal building, in which the mayor Ilir Peci has not set foot since the election.

Representatives of the Central Election Commission and observers were the ones who filled the 23 spaces made available to vote.

The ballot boxes in almost every polling station were empty. It was the same in Banjska i Zveçan.

In the village, since sergeant Afrim Bunjaku was killed seven months ago, there was also no one interested in voting.

A symbolic number of citizens, Albanians and Bosniaks, voted in North Mitrovica.

The hall in which a year ago Erden Atiq was sworn in as the mayor of North Mitrovica, on Sunday turned into a polling place for the citizens of this municipality, who had the opportunity to decide whether or not they want Atiq to continue working. But the interest to participate in this process was low. And Atiq will continue his work as chairman.

The non-participation of citizens in the voting, according to those who forwarded this process, confirms the announced boycott.

"There are few interested from other ethnic groups. Considering that there are 1740 voters in this center, and considering the past times, we can say that a boycott is happening", said Gentrit Rushiti, commissioner in North Mitrovica.

Kosovo Police officials were seen near each voting center. According to the deputy director Veton Elshani, during the day no incident was recorded.

"We have a minimum number of policemen used for polling stations. On the roads of the north, the number is the same as usual, but we have a sufficient number of policemen in case there would be any disruption of order or public peace or any destabilization", said Elshani.

A characteristic of this process, among others, was surveillance with cameras. They were encountered in every polling station in North Mitrovica and Zveçan.

As a result of the shooting, unlike other election processes, the voting booths were located on the opposite side.

With the participation of the citizens on the voting day, the process for the removal or not of the mayors is considered failed. In order for him to succeed, 50 percent plus one voter would have to vote for either option.

Voting in Leposavic

Water dripped from the ceiling of the voting center in Koshtovë on the day when the vote was taken to dismiss the mayor of Leposaviq. The initiative failed and Lulzim Hetemi will continue to govern this municipality.

The process was also characterized by a lack of conditions for the commissioners, who were heated by a wood fire and the generator to keep the security camera on, which is a new standard with the entry into force of the new election law, did not work.

Albert Bekteshi, head of the voting center in Kushtovo, said that he conveyed his concerns to the CEC, but that they did not give him a solution for everything they asked for.

"They answered us about the electricity, they brought us a generator, but after an hour of work it turned off and has not been turned on again. We have informed the relevant authorities, we have not received a response", said Bekteshi.

In much more comfortable conditions, the commissioners were a few kilometers away in the village of Bistricë i Shala, the birthplace of Lulzim Hetem. But similarly, minority Albanian voters in this municipality did not vote.

Even in Dren, north of Leposaviq, a village inhabited by Serbs, where the building of the former company "Univerzal" was used as a voting center, there were complaints.

Afrim Krasniqi, head of the voting center in Dren, said that in this facility that has not been used for years, it was cold and without electricity.

"There is no electricity, the facility belongs to the Municipality, it is unused, so they have adapted it for the election, while the cameras are, we have the camera with a generator and it is functional", said Krasniqi.

In the polling station in his village, Soçanicë, the Deputy Minister for Communities and Returns, Radoica Radomirović, voted.

Before going to vote, he stopped to talk with the Minister of Local Government Administration, Elbert Krasniqi, who criticized the Serbian List.

"Lista Serbe wants to have a monopoly on the politics of Serbs in Kosovo. They see the institutions only for themselves and not for the citizens. They continue to have seats reserved for the Serbian community in the Assembly and do not represent the interests of the citizens, but rather receive the salaries of the Assembly", said Minister Krasniqi.

He also said that the Government has fulfilled its obligations regarding the possibility of dismissing the mayors by citizens' petition.

"The Administrative Instruction has opened the possibility that through a petition it can be presented with 20 percent of the voters of a city where they have initiated this petition. Our task has been to make this opportunity for citizens to express their will. The task of the state was also to organize the process, the rest is up to the citizens", he added.

The member of the Municipal Electoral Commission from the Municipality of Leposaviq, Lutfi Hasani, who has been involved in the electoral processes since 2013, said that initially the school principals had promised to open the schools to serve as voting centers. but then they didn't keep their word. Improvisation, according to him, has caused the problems, as has been the supply of material.

"It was necessary to use improvised municipal offices as voting centers due to the impossibility and malfunctioning of the centers at the municipal level that we had earlier. It is worth noting that the staff are in the polling stations and these stations are open and voters are welcome to fulfill their obligation. Several factors have influenced the delays, one of the main ones was that we did not have the decision of the material system", said Hasani.

About half of the votes at the level of Leposaviq were placed in the boxes of the main facility of the Municipality by the members of the Serbian community.

There, some polling stations were opened with a delay of about 20 minutes, and the officials of the municipal electoral commission explained the delays with the wide territorial extension of this municipality.

Voting in Zubin-Potok

The voting center for the approximately 400 residents with the right to vote in the villages of Crepulë and Ceceva in the Municipality of Zubin-Potoku had no lighting or heating on Sunday.

In the absence of a public facility, the polling station became a container. The generator worked just enough to keep the surveillance camera on for the voting process. The heavy snowfall did not stop on Sunday in Zubin-Potok.

In low temperature, the commissioners of this center warmed up in a car. The interest of the residents of this part did not have to use the legal right to show their position whether they agree or not that Izmir Zeqiri leaves the function of the position of the mayor of Zubin Potok Municipality.

In the Municipality of Zubin-Potoku, 14 polling stations were planned to be opened, but they were merged into five, due to the opposition of the educational institutions operating within the Serbian parallel system, to release the spaces for use.

Only two of them were opened in public facilities, the other three were improvised in containers.

The largest voting center was opened in the municipal building. A total of 7 polling stations.

A Serbian citizen who used the right to vote, said that she is against the dismissal of the mayor Izmir Zeqiri.

"I am against the sacking of the mayor. It worked well. Everyone should use their vote", she said.

The mayor of this municipality, Zeqiri, has promised a series of other projects.

The process was not without incident. Police officers were present at every polling station, as well as on the roads leading to them.

The Chairman of the Municipal Electoral Commission, Agim Kastrati, stated that he felt confident in the implementation of this process.

6877 citizens had the right to vote in this municipality.

This dismissal vote followed the petition initiated in January by Serbian citizens in these four municipalities. And since the initiative has failed, then a new process, by  initiated by the petition, it can be repeated only after one year.

Next year, in the fall, there will also be regular municipal elections.

(Authors of the text: Valbona Bytyqi, Majlinda Ibrahimi, Ardit Kika and Rinesa Qorri)