Serbia’s rival pro-Western and nationalist camps each positioned themselves to begin talks on forming a new government yesterday after parliamentary elections left the Balkan nation sharply divided.
A nationalist challenge cast a shadow over pro-Western Serbian President Boris Tadic’s claim of victory in Sunday’s vote. The showdown reflected deep divisions among Serbs torn over whether to join the EU or shift toward their traditional ally, Russia, and revert to their nationalist past.
Tadic proclaimed “a great day for Serbia” after projections by an independent monitoring group and partial results from the state electoral commission gave his Coalition for a European Serbia a 10 percent lead over the ultra-nationalist Radical Party.
But he told supporters early yesterday in central Belgrade: “You should celebrate, but I must go and negotiate.”
“Those will be tough negotiations,” Tadic said.
His nationalist opponents, meanwhile, sought to team up and form a government despite the pro-Western camp’s clear lead.
“There is a clear chance that a government will be formed that will not include Tadic’s party,” ultra-nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic said.
Nikolic said he would meet yesterday with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica’s conservative coalition and with the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialists, whose support looked to be decisive.
Any alliance that can muster a simple 126-seat majority in the 250-seat parliament can govern. Although Tadic’s coalition appeared assured of 103 seats, Nikolic’s Radicals were poised to get 76. If they joined forces with Kostunica’s bloc and the Socialists, their combined strength would be 127 seats.
Nikolic also accused Tadic of inciting violence by proclaiming victory. But Tadic made clear he saw the outcome as a mandate to take the country into the EU.
He warned his opponents “not to tamper with the will of the people” and pledged to prevent the formation of a nationalist government.
Tadic was also expected to court the Socialists and their 21 seats.
The EU called the success of Tadic’s coalition a “clear victory” by pro-European forces.