Tue, Dec 30, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Serb nationalists win big in parliamentary election

REFORM SETBACK Pro-Western parties will probably still create the next government, but the election results were a big setback for the reformers

REUTERS , BELGRADE

Hardline nationalists led by a jailed war crimes suspect won Serbia's general election yesterday, putting pressure on feuding pro-Western reformers to unite if they are to form a stable government.

In a bitter blow for the politicians who toppled Slobodan Milosevic as Yugoslav president in 2000, the ultra-nationalist Radicals of former paramilitary leader Vojislav Seselj became the biggest party in parliament, initial results showed.

The Radicals won nearly 28 percent of Sunday's vote, underlining how disappointed many Serbs are with three years of Western-style economic and political change, feuding among former reform allies and allegations of government corruption.

Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said the result showed Serbs wanted to punish the government for failing to raise living standards faster in a country that had been battered by years of international isolation under Milosevic.

"We got what we asked for," Covic said, although some reformers have blamed the EU for not providing more development aid to help Serbia restructure its economy and create jobs.

The outcome was a setback for Western leaders hoping Serbia had turned its back on aggressive nationalism after a decade of Balkan conflicts under Milosevic, who, like Seselj, is facing war crimes charges at the UN tribunal in The Hague.

"We won this victory for Vojislav Seselj and other Hague indictees and for Serbia's citizens who had enough of being humiliated," acting Radical Party chief Tomislav Nikolic said.

Together with Milosevic's once-mighty Socialists, who ruled Serbia during the violent break-up of old Yugoslavia in the 1990s but have since lost much of their support, the Radicals would have more than 100 deputies in the 250-seat legislature.

Both Seselj and Milosevic headed the candidate lists of their respective parties.

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