About the Author: Marianne Toussaint serves as Kosovo Desk Officer in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
Despite forecasts of a blizzard hitting this small Balkan state, Kosovo opened its polls on a clear, brisk winter morning. Election officials and observer teams were relieved, not only for our own transportation purposes, but because there was now one less hindrance for citizens to come out to vote in this country's first post-independence national elections.
My job as a State Department desk officer for Kosovo has been full of rewarding moments witnessing the world's newest democracy progress on its path towards fulfilling its European future -- from declaring independence and enacting a constitution to joining international organizations, establishing government institutions, and now administering its first parliamentary elections.
In my few days in Pristina, it was clear that Kosovo's Central Elections Commission, international and local NGOs, local embassies, and international security and assistance organizations worked tirelessly to pull together extraordinary elections in just 45 days. It really is remarkable that not quite three years after independence, this young state could administer an election that many international observers have deemed largely efficient and effective.
On December, 12, the U.S. embassy's 35 teams joined hundreds of other international diplomatic observer missions and the U.S.-supported ENEMO and Democracy in Action missions. I was fortunate to participate in a monitoring team in southeastern Kosovo, visiting polling centers in both Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb majority towns. We were greeted with a friendly, energetic atmosphere, and I was encouraged to see election workers and local observers with a clear sense of pride in their role in the elections, all striving to ensure a transparent process.
My observer team spent most of the afternoon in one of the new, decentralized Serbian-majority municipalities. Though illegal, parallel institutions blocked poll workers from opening voting centers in local schools, centers were set up in alternative locations. Crammed into a small room lit by one light bulb run on a generator, these centers were able to stay open. Seeing so many Kosovo Serbs lined up to vote just a little over a year since the municipality was established is a true testament to the importance of the decentralization process and to democratic development in this country. After municipal-level elections last year, greater numbers of citizens were embracing the democratic process of electing their representatives and engaging in the local political life. Unfortunately, this was not the case on election day in northern Kosovo, where many were prevented from exercising their right to vote, following weeks of Government of Serbia-sanctioned intimidation and threats of violence against ethnic Serbs engaging with Kosovo government institutions or planning to vote.
At day's end, we returned to Pristina greeted by fireworks, which were perhaps premature since final results would not be immediately available due to the hand-counting and reporting process and reports of irregularities in some municipalities. Though my team did not witness any major problems in the centers we visited, reports were already surfacing election night of allegations of fraud and problems in other areas that would clearly become the focus of investigations in the coming days. However, even with the challenges in northern Kosovo and the results still unfolding, all parties are rightfully celebrating what this country has worked so hard to achieve -- a democratic, multi-ethnic state.