Failed elections trigger Serbian political crisis

Serbian presidential elections failed for the third time in a year today, triggering a major political crisis in the Balkan republic.

Serbian presidential elections failed for the third time in a year today, triggering a major political crisis in the Balkan republic.

An anti-Western ultranationalist with close ties to Slobodan Milosevic led the ballot, underlining Serbians’ discontent with the pro-Western government that ousted the dictator in 2000 and the republic’s drift back to Milosevic’s nationalism that triggered the Balkan wars in the 1990s.

About 39% of registered voters cast ballots, exit polls showed, less than the 50% needed to validate the vote, said the independent Centre for Free Elections and Democracy.

Tomislav Nikolic was ahead with 46.5% of the vote, the unofficial results showed. Dragoljub Micunovic, a pro-democracy candidate who led pre-election polls, trailed with only 35%. Four other candidates shared the rest of the vote.

Official results were expected tomorrow, but the centre’s results have proved reliable in the past.

The failed election left Serbia in a power vacuum. Parliament was dissolved last week because the pro-Western government lost parliamentary support, leaving no one to call a presidential new vote.

New general elections were set for December 28.

Serbia’s Vice Prime Minister Zarko Korac described the election results as a “tragedy for Serbia”.

“We are entering a dangerous, dramatic, phase of our future,” Korac said.

Stjepan Gredelj, an independent election analyst who monitored the vote, feared “an institutional chaos” without a president for the republic.

Voters stayed away from the polls because of disillusionment with the country’s leadership, which has failed to bring economic progress to Serbia following a decade of war that led to Yugoslavia’s break-up and and the ouster of Milosevic, he said.

Labour protests are on the rise, and people are generally dissatisfied with their living standards in Serbia, which with the much smaller republic of Montenegro formed Serbia-Montenegro, the country that replaced Yugoslavia.

“The politicians are getting what they deserve,” Gredelj said.

The last two elections, at the end of last year, also foundered because low voter turnout. The post of president has been vacant since a Milosevic ally, Milan Milutinovic, stepped down in January to face war crimes charges at a UN court in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Nikolic, 51, of the pro-Milosevic Serbian Radical party, had been banking that disillusionment with democracy and the West would help his cause. He has pledged to have no more extraditions of Serbs to the UN tribunal to answer war-crimes charges committed during last decade’s Balkan wars fomented by Milosevic.

Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj is in The Hague awaiting his war crimes trial together with Milosevic and several other former top Serbian leaders.

Aleksandar Vucic, an official of Nikolic’s Radical Party, said the election results presented an “immense triumph” and predicted that the party would do well in the December parliamentary elections.

“The Serbian Radical Party has become the single strongest party,” he said. “I am sure this heralds Serbia’s political future.”

There are no more armed conflicts in the region, but the threat of instability remains amid the social and political crises.

In March, Serbia’s first post-Milosevic prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, the republic’s first democratic leader since the Second World War, was assassinated, allegedly by crime bosses and Milosevic-era paramilitary commanders.

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