An ally of late President Slobodan Milosevic was elected as Serbia’s new parliament speaker today, signalling a return of ultranationalists to power in the troubled Balkan country.
Tomislav Nikolic, a leader of the Serbian Radical Party, was elected to the highly influential position – second in line behind the president – thanks to the votes of the conservative party of outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.
Nikolic received 142 votes out of 244 politicians present at a stormy marathon parliamentary session that lasted for nearly 15 hours, running into early today. A candidate of the pro-Western Democratic Party, Milena Milosevic, received 99 votes.
The election made Nikolic the first hard-line nationalist to get a top job since Milosevic was ousted from power in 2000 in a popular pro-Western revolt.
The choice of Nikolic reflects the recent rise in Serbian nationalism, amid prospects that the Kosovo province may gain independence, as envisaged by a UN plan, and a failure by pro-democratic parties to form a coalition government after elections on January 21
At stake is whether the Balkan country would restart pre-entry talks with the European Union or return to the isolation policies of Milosevic, who died last year while on trial on genocide charges at the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
After his election, Nikolic said: “I’m not a danger for Serbia,” and pledged to conduct the assembly sessions in a democratic manner.
Pro-democrats warned that by supporting the radical candidate, Kostunica’s conservatives had left the camp that toppled Milosevic and joined his allies, who took Serbia to four wars during his decade-long rule in the 1990s.
Nikolic is a fierce nationalist known for his anti-Western stands, including demands that Serbia shelve its EU aspirations and focus on maintaining close ties with Russia and China. He also has advocated military intervention in Kosovo if the breakaway ethnic Albanian-populated province becomes independent.