A strong election success by right-wing nationalists allied to former president Slobodan Milosevic is leaving fractured pro-democracy groups with little choice but to unite or see Serbia slide into renewed authoritarianism.
Preliminary results showed the Serbian Radical party winning yesterday’s parliamentary elections, ahead of more moderate nationalists. The outgoing pro-democratic government was in third place.
The independent Centre for Free Elections and Democracy said exit polls had the Radicals with 82 seats, compared with 53 for the Democratic Party of Serbia and 37 for the Democratic Party.
“It is important that democratic groups now form a bloc that will ensure that Serbia remains on the path of democratic reforms” and focused on membership in the European Union, said Boris Tadic, the Democratic Party chief.
Although the Radicals won most seats, they still cannot form the government alone, not even with Milosevic’s Socialists with whom they ruled in coalition until a popular revolt in 2000 replaced them with the now outgoing pro-Western government. The Socialists came sixth.
The failure of the post-Milosevic leadership – more than a dozen pro-democracy groups whose unity crumbled after 2000 – brought disillusionment among many Serbs and contributed to the swing back to the hard-liners.
Average monthly salaries equal around £170 and the Radicals also profited from a deep anti-West feelings generated by the Nato bombing of Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo campaign.
“Serbia is on the path of political chaos,” said prominent analyst Aleksandar Tijanic. He predicted that if democratic groups do not reunite, that could lead to new early elections and further gains by the Radicals.
Prominent members of the democratic bloc suggested they had learned their lesson.
“We will do everything to ensure creation of a stable, democratic government,” said Miroljub Labus, the leader of G17 party that won a projected 22 seats.
But with the Radicals strong, even a Serbian government that leaves them in the opposition will not be as pro-Western and liberal as the one formed after Milosevic’s fall.
Radical leader Vojislav Seselj earlier this year surrendered to the UN war crimes court in the Netherlands, joining Milosevic who was extradited by the pro-Western leadership in 2001 for his alleged role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Seselj’s deputy and the key figure of the Radicals’ election campaign, Tomislav Nikolic, dedicated the party victory to “Seselj and other Serb inmates in The Hague” – an allusion to Milosevic.
Both Milosevic and Seselj were candidates in the elections, despite their imprisonment by the UN court. Two other indicted war crimes suspects from other parties were also running.
The Radicals openly call for “Greater Serbia” at the expense of the republic’s Balkan neighbours and have pledged to cut diplomatic ties with Serbia’s main wartime rival, Croatia. They also vow not to extradite to the Hague tribunal the two top UN war crimes fugitives – former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military commander, General Ratko Mladic.