Yesterday, Kosovo held its first election since its independence from Serbia in 2008. The historic election is a real test for the poor region to demonstrate to the international community its political stability and the coexistence of its two ethnic groups, the Albanian majority and Serbs monitory.
Later today, the election results will be announced. But regardless of who is the winner, the Kosovan leaders must work out a way to form a coalition government as exit polls indicate that no party has won an absolute majority of seats.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci claimed victory late Sunday for his Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), but the main opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) claimed they led the vote.
"Victory is ours!" Thaci told his supporters hours after polling closed. The election commission will only begin announcing results on Monday but an exit poll put the PDK in the lead with 31 per cent of the vote.
Another count, by the Kosovo Democratic Institute (KDI), a leading election monitor, whose monitors counted the votes in 37 per cent of polling stations, put the PDK ahead with 34.4 per cent and the LDK trailing with 25.3 per cent; nevertheless, the LDK insisted it was ahead in the vote.
"The exit poll is not a final result. The LDK is still leading at the Kosovo level," party spokesman Arben Gashi said.
This was based on a count by LDK election monitors of more than 60 per cent of ballots cast on Sunday, he said.
Preliminary final results by the Central Electoral Commission are not expected until 24 hours after the polls close, which would by 7pm (1800 GMT) Monday.
Since both parties have claimed victory, preventive security measures have been put in place in order to avoid any clashes between PDK and LDK supporters.
LDK leader and mayor of Pristina, Isa Mustafa, called on his supporters not to protest in the streets but to remain calm while the votes were being counted.
"We only accept the results of the Central Electoral Commission," he said in a televised appeal.
"There is no need for our supporters to take to the streets because it will affect the counting of the votes. I appeal to our followers to keep the peace and order until the job is finished."
Voting however passed off without incident although the electoral commission put the overall turnout at only 47.8 per cent. Some 1.6 million voters were eligible to vote with 29 political parties on the ballots.
The vote was held amid high hopes by the majority ethnic Albanian population to improve Kosovo's struggling economy, while the minority Serbs, two-thirds of the population, hit the polls, highlighting the divisions between the ethnic communities. Most Serbs broke with tradition and came out to vote in areas surrounded by ethnic Albanians.
In North Kosovo, Serbs maintained a virtual total boycott, However, Serbs in enclaves in central Kosovo, were reported to have turned out in unprecedented numbers, including up to 50 per cent in some Serb towns.
Serbia called for Kosovo's Serb minority to boycott the vote to protest the province's declaration of independence, which Serbia does not recognise as valid. The call deepened fears that Kosovo could split into a Serb north and an ethnic Albanian south, something that would run counter to decades of efforts by the West to calm ethnic tensions in the region.
The high turnout means that the Kosovo Serbs could be entitled to up to 15 seats in the 120 seat parliament, giving them a kingmaker position as any party will have to put together a coalition to govern.
Media reports said that even if Thaci's PDK managed to remain the largest single party, he might not be able to govern as he would have difficulty finding coalition partners.
Exit polls conducted by NGOs suggested that the Alliance for the future of Kosovo (AAK) and the Alliance for a New Kosovo (ARK) would keep their parliamentary presence.
The AAK is led by former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, an ex-guerilla leader currently detained by the UN war crimes court in The Hague awaiting a retrial. The ARK is run by construction tycoon Bexhet Pacolli.
Newcomers the Self-Determination party of populist activist Albin Kurti looked set to become the third biggest party of Kosovo.
The new government will have a tough job in fighting corruption, improving the economy and creating new jobs in a country with a 40 per cent unemployment rate, which dishearteningly encompasses most of the country's youth.