PRESS - Times
Milosevic's old party makes gains in vote for Serbia's soul
The ultranationalist Radicals, who ruled Serbia with Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, won the most votes in the first election since the breakup of the country’s union with Montenegro last year.
The party took 28.7 per cent of the vote yesterday, giving it about 81 seats — the same number it had held.
However, the pro-Western Democratic Party also performed strongly. winning 22.9 per cent of the vote and doubling its number of seats to 65 in the 250-seat Parliament.
The ruling centre-right Popular Coalition of Vojislav Kostunica, the Prime Minister, had 17 per cent, or 47 seats, according to CESID, an independent polling group. The state electoral commission released similar results. A newly formed Liberal coalition, led by Cedomir Jovanovic, who negotiated Milosevic’s arrest in 2001, won a surprise 14 seats.
The election will determine whether the troubled Balkan nation drifts toward mainstream Europe or returns to its wartime nationalist past. Serbia’s pro-democratic parties could form a new government if they agree on who will be the next Prime Minister.
Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the Radicals, admitted last night that his party could not form a government.
Kosovo will be the immediate challenge for the next government, which could take weeks to be formed. The West had feared that if the Radicals emerged as outright winners, Europe would face another crisis if Kosovo was given independence.
Even before the results, customers in the Bajloni food market in Belgrade’s Old Town seemed resigned to losing the country’s spiritual homeland. “Kosovo has gone. I think everyone knows that,” said Slavica, 58, selling books and pens with her daughter. Zivko, 61, was selling kitchen utensils. “The best solution would be for Kosovo to stay in the framework of Serbia. It’s an open wound, there’s so much emotion attached. But we’ re going to lose it. Anyway, we have to join the world and not go back to the dark past.”
Martti Ahtisaari, the international envoy for Kosovo, is due to give his recommendations on its future after the election. It is widely expected that he will suggest some form of independence. Kosovo remains a part of Serbia, although it has been run by the United Nations since the war ended in 1999.
“It’s a difficult decision, Kosovo is very special to Serbia but there are more important things for me like obtaining visas for the European Union,” said Isador Saric, 24, outside a polling station in Belgrade.
Many Serbs are subject to travel restrictions, a consequence of the turmoil and war that afflicted Serbia during the Milosevic period.
Another key issue facing the incoming government is EU relations. Membership talks have been frozen because of Belgrade’s unwillingness to hand over Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general charged with geocide for his role during the Bosnian War.