Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Another Serbian election failure could spark crisis

AP , BELGRADE, SERBIA-MONTENEGRO

Amid voter apathy that doomed two previous efforts, Serbians voted for a president yesterday for the third time in a year. Failure this time could leave the republic politically hamstrung.

Dragoljub Micunovic, a veteran politician with strong democratic credentials backed by the governing Democrats and their allies, was leading pre-election polls against five other candidates.

His main rival, Tomislav Nikolic, an ultranationalist with ties to Slobodan Milosevic, is hoping that disillusionment with the democracy will help his cause.

The last two elections foundered because turnout was below the 50 percent minimum, and polls indicate possible failure again yesterday due to opposition calls for a boycott and apathy among the 6.5 million eligible voters.

A failure of Sunday's vote would create a major political crisis.

Parliament was dissolved last week and early general elections were set for Dec. 28. If yesterday's elections failed, there would be no one to call a new vote because that task usually falls to the speaker of the now dissolved parliament.

Even if yesterday's turnout passed the legal threshold, no candidate is likely to win outright by collecting at least 50 percent of votes cast. A runoff would be held in two weeks -- Nov. 30.

Polls opened at 7am and were to close 13 hours later. An independent observer group was expected to release early results late last night; the first official results were expected today.

Serbia and the much smaller republic of Montenegro form Serbia-Montenegro, which replaced Yugoslavia after it broke apart following a decade of war.

There are no more armed conflicts in the region, but the threat of instability remains.

In March, Serbia's first post-Milosevic prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, also the republic's first democratic leader since World War II, was assassinated, allegedly by crime bosses and Milosevic-era paramilitary commanders.

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