Nationalist candidate Tomislav Nikolic won the Serbian presidency tonight, a result that adds to the political turmoil in the Balkan country and could slow down its attempts to join the European Union.
The Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, an independent polling group, said Nikolic won 49.4% of the vote, while pro-European Union incumbent Boris Tadic received 47.4%.
Mr Tadic conceded defeat, saying, “I wish Nikolic the best of luck.” The results are expected to be officially confirmed tomorrow.
Mr Nikolic must name a prime minister, but that task has been complicated because of the outcome of the May 6 parliamentary election. Although his Progressive Party won the most seats, Mr Tadic’s Democrats have tentatively agreed on an alliance with Socialists that would give them a majority. Mr Nikolic has claimed the May 6 vote was marred by fraud.
The outcome also could hugely impact Serbia’s plans to become an EU member, a major step for a country that was a pariah state under late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. It also could determine whether Serbia continues to reconcile with its neighbours and wartime foes, including the former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008. Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
Mr Nikolic, who narrowly lost two earlier presidential votes against Tadic, claimed to have shifted from being staunchly anti-Western to pro-EU. But that change is widely believed to be a ploy to gain more votes.Mr Nikolic has close ties with Russia and has in the past even envisaged Serbia as a Russian province.
“Serbia will not stray from its European road,” he insisted today. “This day is a crossroad for Serbia.”
He added that Serbia must “get rid” of poverty and corruption.
Mr Tadic, who championed Serbia’s bid to become an EU member, was leading the pre-runoff polls, but Mr Nikolic’s nationalist supporters appeared to have more enthusiasm for casting their ballots. Election observers said turnout was about 10% lower than in 2008, when Mr Tadic beat Mr Nikolic by a slight margin.