Serbia elections: a Milosevic ally vs. a pro-EU incumbent
A presidential runoff is expected on May 20, as both nationalist Tomislav Nikolic and incumbet President Boris Tadic are unlikely to get more than 50 percent of today's first round vote.
Serbs voted in large numbers in general elections Sunday that gave them a sharp choice between a pro-Western government or one that would bring back to power former nationalist allies of the late Balkan strongman Slobodan Milosevic.Skip to next paragraph
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The election for president, Parliament and local authorities will determine the pace of Serbia's European Union-demanded economic and social reforms, after facing international isolation as a pariah state under Milosevic in the 1990s for his warmongering policies.
The ballots also could determine whether Serbia continues to reconcile with its neighbors and wartime foes, including the former province of Kosovo which declared independence in 2008. Milosevic recruited nationalist paramilitaries for his wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo in the 1990s that killed more than 120,000 people and left millions homeless.
The two leading contenders in presidential and parliamentary elections are Boris Tadic and his pro-EU Democratic Party, and Milosevic's former ally Tomislav Nikolic, whose right-wing populist Serbian Progressive Party has capitalized on EU's economic troubles, which have dimmed the bloc's allure for many Serbs.
The vote comes amid the country's deep economic crisis — including a 24 percent unemployment rate — and huge public discontent with plummeting living standards.
Nikolic, a somber former cemetery manager, said Sunday he's certain of a victory.
"It's not the first time. But this time it's definite," Nikolic, 60, said after voting. "Serbia is anxiously awaiting changes, the changes that are necessary. It cannot go on like this any longer. I think that either tonight, or in two weeks, we can openly discuss how to move Serbia forward."
Incumbent President Tadic said if he and his Democrats win, they will quickly form a new government.
"I expect that Serbia will continue on its reform path," Tadic, a charismatic 54-year-old former psychology professor, said after casting his ballot. "Better life, better living standards for ordinary people is our strategic goal."
Election monitors said turnout several hours before the polls were to close was about 32 percent, the largest since 2000 when pro-democracy forces ousted Milosevic from power. The turnout appeared to indicate that Serbs regard the election as crucial in shaping the future of their country.