In a bitter blow for the politicians who toppled Slobodan Milosevic from power in 2000, ex-paramilitary leader Vojislav Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party (SRS) has become the biggest party in parliament.
The Socialists kept their place in parliament with 7% of votes, with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic heading their candidate list.
Milosevic and Seselj are held in The Hague accused of war crimes, neither will be able to take a seat unless freed but candidates could be nominated to represent them in their absence.
“We won this victory for Vojislav Seselj and other Hague indictees and for Serbia’s citizens who had enough of being humiliated,” said acting Radical Party chief Tomislav Nikolic.
The main reform parties, which split acrimoniously after overthrowing Milosevic, won a combined 42% of the ballot. The SRS are the biggest seat winners with 27.5% of votes.
Analysts now expect a four-party reform bloc to form a coalition to keep the Radicals out of power, but any coalition is likely to be weak and unstable.
However, even if kept of out top posts, the Radicals will raise pressure on any government to defy international demands such as for the hand-over of suspects to the UN war crimes tribunal.
The result has also dashed the hopes that the election would end months of political instability and unblock reforms deemed vital for Serbia’s entry to the European Union and NATO.
“Maybe it was naive of everyone to think that the nationalism that had 50% of the vote just three years ago would evaporate so quickly,” said one EU official.
EU heavyweights France and Britain made clear they expected Serbia to continue on the reform path. “There is no alternative if the country is to make progress on European integration,” said the London Foreign Office.
The Radicals more than trebled their number of seats in parliament, gaining the votes of those disappointed with economic and political change and alleged government corruption.