The initiative to dismiss mayors in the north revives the narrative that the government is seeking tensions in the north

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*Prepared by: Fitim Gashi

The Serbs in the north signaled this month that they want a return to Kosovo’s institutions by initiating procedures that pave the way for new elections for municipality mayors. However, this development was accompanied by clashes due to the initial refusal of some municipalities to accept the petitions deposited by individuals, requesting the removal of Albanian mayors. These initiatives came after Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, on October 12, called on Serbs to engage in new elections, followed by the decision of the Serbian List expressing readiness to listen to Vučić through a press conference. Their request was for the current mayors to resign, allowing for faster elections, contrary to the government’s determination to follow procedures based on the guidelines adopted by the Ministry of Local Government. This document specifies that the initiation of a request for the removal of the mayor of the municipality can be made by any citizen or group of citizens with voting rights in the respective municipality. The request must be supported by at least twenty percent of registered voters to organize a vote for the removal of the mayor of the municipality.

Individuals and groups of Serbs suddenly undertook the initiative to submit petitions, delivering them on December 6 in the presence of only two local media outlets in the north, “Kosovo-online” and “TV Most.” From North Mitrovica, Sanja Lazarevic-Krtinić and Milan Milosavljević complained that their request was not accepted, despite adhering to legal procedures. According to them, not only were the administrative guidelines set by the Government of Kosovo violated, but also the right of residents who submitted the initiative.

“This is the most brutal violation of human rights that we have witnessed today here in Mitrovica, Kosovo, in fact, in the building of the Municipality of North Mitrovica. The submission of a simple request for the withdrawal of the mayor of North Mitrovica did not reach the office and was eliminated from the beginning. This is just an indicator of how endangered the rights of Serbs are in European land,” said Milan Milosavljević.

They also revealed that the police checked the IDs of a group of residents from Zvečan, not allowing them to submit the petition.

Even lawyer Veselin Radović confirmed that he could not submit the same request in the Municipality of Leposavić.

The information that the requests of Serbian citizens for the removal of Albanian mayors in the north were not accepted in any municipality dominated the headlines in Serbia. The Serbian side returned to the narrative that this is a confirmation of “terror against Serbs.” The director of the so-called Office for Kosovo in the Serbian Government, Petar Petković, and the Serbian List also reacted, stating that this is a failure for the international community, which has been insisting on new elections in the north for months.

The Serbian List withdrew from the previous conditions for participation in municipal elections in the north, which included the removal of special units of the Kosovo Police and the establishment of the Association of Municipalities with Serbian Majority.

Local and central officials referred to the procedures, but it was not clear whether they themselves adhered to them.

The President of the Municipal Assembly of North Mitrovica, through a decision, stated that the petition was rejected as it is not in line with the Administrative Instruction, and they were not informed in advance about the initiative that remove the current mayor.

Minister of Local Government Elbert Krasniqi also reacted, stating that he learned about the case from the media and is aware that a group of citizens is already “collecting signatures.” He confirmed that the Ministry had not been informed about the initiative from the north, neither the heads of municipal assemblies nor the formal initiators.

According to the Guidelines, which the Ministry stated should guide the new elections, if the majority of voters in the respective municipality from the final voter list, 50% + 1 percent, vote for the removal of the mayor, it is considered that the mayor has been removed from office.

However, the refusal of municipal leaders prompted reactions from election and local issues experts.

Eugen Cakolli, a researcher at the Democratic Institute of Kosovo, said that the municipal president has no competence to assess the acceptability of the request or its rejection.

According to him, the President of the Municipal Assembly of North Mitrovica violated the law and other acts with the decision to reject the citizens’ request for the removal of the mayor.

“The president has no competence, neither according to the law nor according to the Administrative Instruction, to assess the acceptability of the request, let alone its rejection. The role of the president is entirely symbolic and only a notifier to other authorities,” wrote Cakolli.

Despite the refusals faced by the petition initiators, the institution responsible for organizing elections has confirmed the acceptance of three requests submitted by the heads of municipal assemblies in Leposavić, North Mitrovica, and Zubin Potok. They have requested from the Central Election Commission (CEC) to provide official information about the members of the initiating group if they are voters in the respective municipalities. Information regarding the updated number of registered voters in these municipalities has also been requested, based on which the minimum required number of signatures of 20 percent is calculated. The municipality of Zvečan has not officially made such a request yet.

The verification of signatures must be carried out by the Central Election Commission (CEC), in accordance with legislation, after which it informs the president of the Municipal Assembly and the Ministry of the final assessment.

The holding of new elections in the north is one of the measures that the government agreed to take to ease the situation. After the Serbian List boycotted the elections on April 23rd, Albanian mayors won in these municipalities. Their placement in municipal facilities with the assistance of special units of the Kosovo Police was accompanied by protests that escalated into clashes between violent protesters and KFOR. Targets of the attacks included members of the Kosovo Police and journalists.

*This article is published as part of the Western Balkans Regional Initiative against disinformation. Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: exposing malign influences through watchdog journalism.