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Milosevic supporter faces run-off

A nationalist supporter of ousted President Slobodan Milosevic took the lead in Serbia’s presidential election Sunday, but faced a runoff, according to unofficial preliminary results.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A nationalist supporter of ousted President Slobodan Milosevic failed to win a majority Sunday in Serbia’s presidential elections, forcing a runoff vote against a pro-Western reformist candidate in two weeks.

Tomislav Nikolic of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party garnered 31.62 percent of votes cast, ahead of Boris Tadic of the pro-Western Democratic Party with 27.93 percent, according to official results from Serbia’s State Election Commission.

None of the contenders got more than the 50 percent of votes cast needed for immediate victory, the commission said after processing data from what it called a “reliable sample” of 10 percent of all ballots.

Nikolic, who has pledged to block further extradition of the Serbs to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, was confident he would end up victorious.

“I am going to win,” Nikolic proclaimed. “Tadic can’t possibly garner any more votes and I will be the president.”

The runoff will be held June 27 and may bring triumph to Tadic if at least some of the remaining contenders — 15 took part in Sunday’s race — endorse him and help the Balkan republic’s proclaimed aim of joining the European Union.

“These are crucial times for Serbia,” said Tadic. He urged “all pro-democracy groups” to support him in the runoff.

Sunday’s balloting was Serbia’s fourth attempt to elect the head of state since 2002. Previous elections failed because less than half of those eligible cast ballots. That requirement has been dropped. The election commission estimated Sunday’s turnout at 46 percent.

“All pro-democracy parties should come to their senses now and all together support Tadic,” reformist politician Dragoljub Micunovic said.

Tadic’s Democratic Party had spearheaded democratic and economic reforms following Milosevic’s ouster in 2000 but its former leader and Serbia’s first noncommunist prime minister since World War II, Zoran Djindjic, was assassinated in March 2003.

Last December, the Democrats lost parliamentary elections as well as government leadership, but Tadic’s results indicated a possible comeback of the reformist group.

Nikolic has vowed that, if elected, he would press for early general elections — an attempt to help his right-wing Radicals gain control of the parliament and government.

The Radicals once ruled alongside Milosevic and supported his belligerent policies. Nikolic’s victory could push Serbia into renewed isolation and block financial and political support for the cash-strapped republic from the United States, the European Union and major international organizations.

The U.N. tribunal in The Hague is trying Milosevic and the Radical Party founder, Vojislav Seselj. Cooperation with The Hague court is the key condition for international aid for Serbia.

The telegenic, soft-spoken Tadic insisted he was the best choice if Serbia is to join the European Union and fully patch up its ties with Western governments that had been severed under Milosevic.

Serbia’s wealthiest entrepreneur, millionaire Bogoljub Karic finished third with 16.74 percent of the votes, ahead of the candidate of the ruling conservative coalition, Dragan Marsicanin who garnered only 12.69.

The remaining candidates trailed far behind, including Ivica Dacic of the Socialist party, an ally of Milosevic, whose decade-long rule led Serbia into war campaigns, isolation and ruined its economy.

Karic — whose lucrative businesses include a mobile telephone network, a bank, a large construction company and a television station — campaigned telling voters that his wealth was proof he can make Serbia rich.

His relatively strong showing indicated that many voters were primarily concerned with high unemployment and meager salaries averaging only $300 a month.

Princess Elizabeth Karadjordjevic of Serbia’s former royal family also took part in the race. She only recently resettled in her native land, after being banished by communists for decades, and got nearly 2 percent of the votes after only a few weeks of campaigning.