For the first time since Slobodan Milosevic took control of Serbia 10 years ago, his Socialists face a runoff in presidential elections - against a candidate more nationalist than Milosevic himself.
While the Socialist party swept legislative elections in the Serbian republic, which makes up most of Yugoslavia, Milosevic’s protege Zoran Lilic failed to win the 51 percent of Sunday’s vote necessary for a first-round victory.
Lilic will likely face Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj in a runoff Oct. 5, according to partial results released Monday by the two parties. The Radicals also closely trailed the Socialists in the race for Serbia’s 250-seat parliament.
Seselj, 42, a federal lawmaker and mayor of a town near Belgrade, launched his political career on his success as a paramilitary commander during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Virulent in his support for a “greater Serbia,” Seselj once declared his men would “take out the eyes of Croatians with rusty spoons.”
Seselj appeals to people disgruntled with Milosevic for dragging the Balkans into war with a nationalist rallying cry and then signing the 1995 U.S.-brokered accord that ended it.
Nevertheless, Seselj is unlikely to win the presidency. Besides the backing of his Socialist party, Lilic can almost certainly count on support from the pro-democracy opposition, which boycotted Sunday’s vote but who are likely to see Lilic as the lesser of two evils.
“It is clear that citizens of Serbia made up their minds between a smaller and a bigger isolationism,” said Belgrade Mayor Zoran Djindjic, whose Democratic party boycotted Sunday’s election, claiming it was unfair. Among other complaints, the Democrats cited state media’s heavily biased campaign coverage.
However, with voter turnout at 62 percent, the boycott was a failure. Djindjic and his allies had hoped 51 percent of the electorate would boycott, rendering the election invalid.
With about half the vote counted Monday, state electoral officials confirmed the Socialists and Lilic were leading, followed by the Radicals and Seselj. They said exact percentages would be available today.
International observers lent support to the opposition’s claim that the campaign was rigged, saying the “process leading to the election was flawed,” although polling on election day was lawful in most places.