Serbian political rivals discuss joint rule


THE TWO men who fought a bitter battle to be Serbia’s president this month have taken their first steps towards forming an unlikely ruling partnership.

Incoming head of state Tomislav Nikolic held talks yesterday with Boris Tadic about the possibility of the latter becoming prime minister, just weeks after his failure to secure a third term as president seemed likely to end his top-flight political career.

A successful “cohabitation” between Mr Nikolic, a conservative former ultra-nationalist, and the liberal Mr Tadic would be unprecedented in Serbia’s rancorous politics and would increase confidence abroad in Belgrade’s commitment to the EU membership path embarked upon by Mr Tadic.

It is not clear, though, if the two men could work together after years of fierce rivalry – which culminated in Mr Nikolic accusing Mr Tadic of rigging this month’s elections – or whether the Socialists who intend to form a coalition with Mr Tadic’s Democrats would support him as prime minister.

A dramatic improvement in relations between the staunchly pro-western Mr Tadic and Mr Nikolic – who once said he would prefer to see Serbia become a Russian province than an EU member – would also raise the prospect of a “grand coalition” between their parties.

Mr Nikolic’s Serbian Progressive Party and Mr Tadic’s Democrats came first and second respectively in this month’s general election.

“I think you can now look at Serbia’s political future with a lot more optimism,” Mr Nikolic (60) said as the two men emerged from what they called “positive” talks on how to “co-operate on all important issues, from Kosovo to European integration and economy”.

He added: “We have one common goal and that is for Serbia to move forward so that its citizens can live better. Citizens will no longer be afraid when elections come. There are no more bad guys in Serbia, as the country will from now only be led by those who are better than their predecessors.”

Mr Tadic (54) spoke of having “very good talks” with his erstwhile rival. “This was a meeting not only about the transfer of power . . . but about what Serbia’s institutions should look like in the future,” he added.

After breaking in 2008 with ultra-nationalists whose leader is on trial for war crimes, Mr Nikolic sought to reinvent himself as a mainstream European conservative who supports Serbia’s bid for EU accession while also advocating close ties with Belgrade’s traditional ally, Russia.

He narrowly defeated Mr Tadic by tapping into Serbs’ disaffection with their moribund economy and pervasive corruption. Both refuse to recognise Kosovo’s independence, but Mr Nikolic has criticised Mr Tadic for opening talks on practical matters with the new state.

After losing the presidential run-off, Mr Tadic vowed that he would not become prime minister.

On Sunday, though, he said he would “take the responsibility”, calling it “a very hot seat . . . in very challenging times”.