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May 10, 2017

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s government on Wednesday lost a no-confidence vote, setting the scene for an early election following months of political deadlock over a border demarcation deal that critics say would mean a loss of territory for the tiny Balkan country.

Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s coalition government lost in a 78-34 vote, with three abstentions and five lawmakers not present. The outcome means that the government has collapsed about a year before an election was due.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci formally dissolved the parliament within hours of the vote. He has invited political parties to a consultation, and is now expected to set a date for a parliamentary election within 30 to 45 days. The existing Cabinet will continue to run the country until then.

Opposition parties have blamed Mustafa’s Cabinet for being unable to carry out its program and pass important laws. “The country is badly governed. The country needs a new government,” said Valdete Bajrami of the opposition Initiative for Kosovo party, which proposed the no-confidence motion.

The government has been hobbled by its inability to secure a parliamentary majority to back a border demarcation deal with neighboring Montenegro. The United States has pressed Kosovo to pass a border demarcation deal with neighboring Montenegro, which remains the last obstacle before the European Union accepts to let Kosovar citizens travel visa-free in its Schengen member countries.

The deal was signed in 2015, and Mustafa withdrew a draft ratification bill last year. The opposition has claimed that Kosovo would lose territory under the agreement, an accusation denied by the government and local and international experts.

Before the vote, Mustafa had argued that the consequence of a no-confidence vote would be “the country’s destabilization through creating a lack of trust in institutions, and an institutional vacuum.”

The 2 ½-year-old governing coalition was made up of Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo, which holds the second-largest number of seats in the 120-seat parliament. The Democratic Party of Kosovo of Speaker Kadri Veseli currently has the most members in parliament.

The partnership was formed as a last resort when neither of two parties was able to form a Cabinet on its own after the 2014 parliamentary election. The no-confidence vote suggests a breakdown between the two governing partners. Speaker Veseli posted a tweet on Wednesday afternoon saying Kosovo needs a new beginning and the no-confidence vote would “open exciting new chapters of our history.”

Veseli posted a video message informally launching a parliamentary election campaign, blaming Mustafa for the no-confidence vote. Mustafa responded that his government and party prevented “state degradation and released it from crime claws.”

The United States embassy in Pristina pledged its continuing “steadfast support for Kosovo, its citizens, and its path to full Euro-Atlantic integration.” Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. It is recognized by 114 countries, but not by Serbia.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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