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Serbia in coalition scramble after ambivalent vote

Party Popularity

Serbia’s pro-European alliance sought a coalition deal with smaller parties on Monday to stave off a challenge from nationalist runners-up who say they too can form a government after Sunday’s parliamentary election.

The state election commission said with about 98% of votes counted, the Democratic Party had 38.75% and the nationalist Radical Party 29.2%. The election was fought on whether Serbs should swallow their anger over European Union support for the independence of Kosovo, the Serb province which seceded in February, or turn their backs on the bid for European Union membership. The Democrats’ leader, President Boris Tadic, said: “Serbs have undoubtedly confirmed a clear European path.” “This is a great victory, but it’s not over yet.” He said the Democrats now had to form a government as soon as possible.

The Radicals’ leader, Tomislav Nikolic, said the Democrats had jumped the gun as there were “clear possibilities” of a coalition without them -- notably a Radical alliance with the party of outgoing nationalist premier Vojislav Kostunica, and the Socialists of late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic. Nikolic and Kostunica met on Monday “to discuss the goals and nature of a future government,” a statement from Kostunica’s party said.

Serbia’s currency and fledgling stock market rallied on the vote result, with traders now waiting for coalition news. Most analysts predicted long negotiations. “Although we see a very good result for Tadic’s Democrats, it remains very uncertain who will form the government,” said former US ambassador to Serbia William Montgomery. “The results show the country is divided, about 50-50, between those who support the politics of the Democratic Party and its partners, and those who support the Radicals and similar parties, like the Socialists and Kostunica’s DSS.”


EU APPLAUSE

The European Union initially hailed the result as “a clear victory to the pro-EU parties”, but later sounded more cautious. “I hope that a new government can be formed rapidly, which would be strongly committed to reforms and to meeting the necessary conditions for further progress towards Europe,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a statement. “The European Union would give such a government all its support.”

The EU had made its preference clear before the vote, offering Belgrade a pre-membership pact and a visa facilitation deal that are implicitly conditioned on a Democrat win. Campaigning as one, the main pro-EU parties consolidated their vote in one bloc. They did better than in the last election in January 2007, but made no great inroads into overall nationalist support, still at half the 6.7 million electorate. Their surprise first place, however, gave them momentum on election night, which they could turn into leverage with potential coalition partners.

One of the Democrats’ choices for a coalition would be an alliance with the small Liberal Democratic Party and minorities. An alternative would be to ally with Milosevic’s Socialists, a favored option because it would form a stronger coalition and the Democrats were ready to make concessions. A coalition with Kostunica, Tadic’s ally in the eight-month government that collapsed in March, was seen as unlikely. Kostunica insists Kosovo is more important than eventual EU membership and has cited “unbridgeable differences” with Tadic over the country’s future direction. However, he has yet to respond openly to the Radicals’ overtures.

Final results are due by Thursday night. Parliament must convene by mid-June and a government be formed by mid-September or the country must hold a new election. (Reuters)

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