Milosevic scrambles to hang on
Turnout will be crucial as opposition supporters take to the streets to protest the Oct. 8 runoff.
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"I think it's a very feasible scenario," Lyons says. "Sources in Serbia say that the election commission basically approached [opposition coalition leader Zoran] Djindjic and said, 'We're going to take it into a second round, because we can't tell Milosevic that he lost in the first round. He just won't accept it.' "Skip to next paragraph
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Meanwhile, Serbs are focused on protests against the possible Oct. 8 runoff vote. Opposition activists distributed 10,000 baby rattles in downtown Belgrade yesterday, calling the president "childish" for refusing to concede a first-round victory. Police orders to remove a stage set up for the evening rally did nothing to diminish their determination.
The opposition also said that Kostunica was the only leader who could negotiate with the president. In the past, Milosevic has successfully played on fierce party rivalries to divide the opposition.
Even if the opposition goes along with the runoff vote, experts say the strategy is risky for Milosevic.
"The problem is that in two weeks, given the popular knowledge, there is no way [Milosevic] could steal the election," Lyons says. "It could be up to 70 percent voting for Kostunica."
But Milosevic's "hope is that the opposition won't call his bluff, they won't turn out for a second round, so he will get all of the votes," he adds.
But that isn't likely. "Kostunica is a person who sees a place for Serbia, with a capital 'S' in Europe," says a former longstanding Western ambassador to Belgrade.
"The ability of Kostunica to reach out to those who are normally quite fatalistic about Yugoslav politics means he would would probably get 70 percent in a second round. So there's a lot of bluff-calling going on now."
The opposition's choice of whether to take part in a second round is "a high-risk strategy either way," the diplomat adds. "The only way they can win with this strategy they have decided on - to not contest a second round - is if they can get the people to take to the streets in large numbers. They've got to get 300,000 to half a million on the streets on a regular basis to get [Milosevic] to back down.
Analysts note that even if Milosevic loses next month's runoff, his term does not end officially until July. In the meantime, he could concoct a new plan to remain in power, regardless of what title he holds.
Milosevic will appoint the next prime minister, and could consolidate power in the federal parliament, where his and his wife's parties won a majority of seats on Sunday. "There is absolutely no chance they will remove themselves willingly," says Mr. Tijanic, the dissident journalist.
In another possible outcome, Milosevic could decide to quit. If the president of Serbia, a Milosevic loyalist, then announced he could not finish out his term, Milosevic could move back into that office, which he held before assuming the Yugoslav presidency.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society