Nationalist Tomislav Nikolic took most votes in Sunday’s first round of presidential elections in Serbia ahead of the incumbent Boris Tadic, but the two front-runners failed to win an absolute majority and thus face a second round in the beginning of February.
According to initial results, pro-Russian nationalist Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party won 39.6% of the vote while his main competitor, the incumbent pro-Western Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party, took 35.5% of the vote in Sunday’s poll (21 January 2008). Voter turnout reached a record of 61% as the debate over the breakaway province of Kosovo heats up. Kosovo is expected to unilaterally declare independence from Serbia in the weeks to come, but the international community is split over recognition of this. However, the majority of EU member states are expected to recognize Kosovo’s independence once declared. Both presidential candidates oppose an independent Kosovo, but while Nikolic takes a more radical stance and favors closer ties with Russia (which so far has defended Serbian opposition to Kosovo’s independence), Tadic is seen as the more liberal and pro-European candidate. “Serbia voted today for both Europe and Russia,” Nikolic told Serb national TV. “The road to Russia is at this moment more open, and I’ll open the road to the European Union.”
Meanwhile, the incumbent Tadic said that the elections will be important “to show that Serbia is absolutely not giving up its European course, the path it started on in 2000.” The two candidates are heading for a tight run-off vote in the second round on 3 February 2008. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who supported the third-placed candidate, has not yet expressed which of the two he favors. According to analysts, his backing will be decisive in the second round run-off. (EurAktiv)