Serbia seek partners for coalition


GENERAL ELECTION:ELECTIONS HAVE plunged Serbia into political uncertainty, as its two most popular parties woo coalition partners and their leaders seek support ahead of a presidential run-off.

With almost all votes counted from Sunday’s general election, the opposition Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) had 24 per cent, the ruling Democrats 22 per cent and the Socialists 14.5 per cent.

In the simultaneous presidential election, Democrats leader Boris Tadic took 26.7 per cent and Tomislav Nikolic of the populist SNS 25.5 per cent, sending them through to a deciding second-round on May 20th.

Ivica Dacic, leader of the Socialists, came third in the presidential election and yesterday revelled in his role as kingmaker, confirming speculation that he would demand the post of prime minister in exchange for his party’s support for either the Democrats or SNS.

“If someone wants to make a deal on support, then it should include a deal on forming a government. We cannot now support a presidential candidate and later talk about a government,” said Mr Dacic. “Whoever wants to talk to us ... will have to understand that we have risen from the ashes ... We still don’t know who will be president, but we know for sure who will be the prime minister,” he added, in obvious reference to himself.

The Socialists were once led by Slobodan Milosevic, and Mr Dacic was a spokesman for the nationalist leader who fomented war across Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Mr Dacic has brought the party into the political mainstream, and garnered support from many who abandoned the Democrats over their handling of the economy and failure to raise living standards in the country of 7.3 million people.

Mr Tadic and the Democrats say prosperity is within reach if they are given a chance to continue running Serbia, leading it towards EU membership and a boost in foreign investment from stability, liberal reforms and good ties with western powers.

“I expect even more support from citizens ... because it is in their utmost interest: to lead them into the EU, to bring more investments, more regional co-operation,” Mr Tadic said yesterday. “The battle will be fought between myself and Nikolic ... Our policies are substantially different, we have different values, we have different characters.”

Mr Nikolic, a dour former cemetery manager nicknamed “The Undertaker”, insisted that “victory is within reach. We will have a new government and a new president.”

Serbia this year obtained official EU candidate member status after catching the last of its fugitive war crime suspects. But many voters were swayed more strongly by concerns about the moribund economy, a steady fall in the dinar currency and unemployment.

The main three parties all support EU accession, but the SNS might seek to form a coalition with a pro-Russian, anti-EU party, and the Socialists are hostile towards the International Monetary Fund and the Democrats’ plans to raise much-needed funds through privatisation of big state firms.

Brussels and Washington would fear the unpredictability of the SNS and Mr Nikolic, who once said he would prefer Serbia to become a province of Russia than a member of the EU and has often advocated stronger ties with Beijing and Moscow.

Mr Nikolic could also reverse Mr Tadic’s decision to start talks on practical issues with Kosovo, whose independence both say they would never recognise, even if the EU made it a condition of accession. Most analysts believe Mr Tadic will retain the presidency and the Democrats and Socialists will decide to continue with their broadly stable coalition.