Former rebel leader Hashim Thaci claimed a third term as prime minister of Kosovo on Sunday after official preliminary results gave him the lead in a snap parliamentary election that also saw minority Serbs casting votes for the 120-seat assembly despite their rejection of Kosovo's claim to statehood.
Official preliminary results gave Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo a lead of three percentage points over the opposition Democratic League of Kosovo with over 70 percent of the ballots counted. The hardline ethnic Albanian Self-determination movement was in third place, it's best showing ever in a general election.
The vote was seen as important for European Union efforts toward stabilizing the Balkan flashpoint 15 years after its independence war from Serbia.
Sunday's election was called after parliament became deadlocked over key issues, including formation of Kosovo's armed forces.
Just over 43 percent of Kosovo's 1.7 million voters cast ballots, state election authorities said after polls closed.
"Tomorrow morning we continue with our work," Thaci told supporters gathered in the capital Pristina. "Tomorrow we follow the will of the people that was expressed today."
Thaci's strong showing comes despite allegations of government corruption, botched privatization deals and high-profile cases against his top aides suspected by European Union prosecutors in Kosovo of committing war crimes.
The next government will come under immediate pressure from the West to heed the findings of a war crimes investigation that threatens to ensnare Thaci's former comrades-in-arms.
A special European Union task force is expected within weeks to issue the findings of an investigation into allegations that Kosovo’s guerrilla army harvested organs from Serb prisoners of war and sold them on the black market during a 1998-99 conflict.
The investigation followed a 2011 report by the Council of Europe, which pointed the finger at Thaci and other ex-rebels, including four senior members of PDK and candidates for parliament.
Thaci has dismissed the allegations as an outrage.
Thaci was one of the leaders of Kosovo Liberation Army that took up arms in the late 1990s to break free from Serbia rule under Slobodan Milosevic.