Serbia's Tadic ekes out narrow, pro-Europe mandate
He won the presidency, but Radical Party's Nikolic will probably still be influential.
European leaders breathed a sigh of relief after Serbian democrat Boris Tadic eked out a victory Sunday over ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic in a divisive election held days before the expected loss of Kosovo, often spoken of here as the soul of ancient Serbia.Skip to next paragraph
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The Serbian presidency does not carry great powers. But the election won by the incumbent Mr. Tadic with 50.5 percent and a record turnout was seen as a psychological crossroads at a point of crisis – a referendum on reprising the chauvinist spirit of the 1990s and a pro-Moscow tilt, or moving toward Europe's economic and open-travel regime and a greater emphasis on civil society norms.
A radical Serbia is seen in many European capitals and Washington as a threat to Balkan stability. Yet Tadic's message of a bright future and rejection of brutal war years only narrowly triumphed over the Radicals, whose message of change was starting to sell.
Monday, the EU presidency, held by Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic, said it "welcomes the fact that the Serbian people seem to have confirmed their support to the democratic and European course of their country." The lead editorial in Le Monde Monday was titled "Hope for Serbia."
Had Tadic, one of the few surviving leaders of the democratic forces that ousted strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, lost, his political life would have been over, analysts say. As it is, he will head a weak coalition whose principal partner, Prime Minister Voijslav Kostunica, refused to support him.
Amid fireworks and flag-waving vehicles honking in Belgrade streets Sunday, Tadic appeared in the window of his headquarters, telling crowds that "it is important that after the elections, Serbia is united and that we all together set to improve the lives of the citizens." One Tadic aide said, "We are aware that a large percentage of people didn't vote for us."
Tadic is seen as a champion of the cosmopolitan values of cooperation, listening, and respect – though his softer profile frustrated many supporters who felt it appeared indecisive at a time of great moment. After the vote, he reached out to Mr. Nikolic, asking for talks.
Nikolic, who got 47.7 percent of the vote, congratulated Tadic and thanked the voters who supported him, "because they realized that Serbia needs change." He said he had been the "target of a dirty campaign," and felt sorry that "fear rules" in Serbia.