Serbian political parties were expected to start negotiations on the formation of a new government yesterday after the surprise win of nationalist Tomislav Nikolic in presidential polls.
Nikolic upset the odds to defeat Serbian President Boris Tadic on Sunday, but vowed to pursue his predecessor’s drive for the Balkan nation to join the EU.
One-time ally of former Yugloslav federal republic president Slobodan Milosevic, Nikolic led with 50.21 percent over 46.77 for Tadic, according to preliminary results from Serbian electoral commission RIK based on 40.67 percent of votes counted.
Thousands of Nikolic supporters gathered in central Belgrade and other Serbian towns late on Sunday, honking their horns in celebration.
Tadic quickly conceded defeat congratulating Nikolic, who promised to steer a pro-European course, on “a fair and well-earned victory.”
“Serbia will not turn away from the European path,” Nikolic said.
A recent convert to the EU cause, he has warned in the past he would not join the 27-member bloc at any cost, making a breakaway Kosovo the red line for EU membership.
Tadic, 54, who brought the once international pariah state to the EU’s doorstep, warned it would be a “tragic mistake” if Serbia abandoned its EU course.
Serbia got EU candidacy status in March, but has not yet been given a date to open membership talks. To get into Brussels’ good books, Tadic handed over last year the last remaining fugitives from the UN war crimes court hiding in Serbia, Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic. He also agreed to talks between Belgrade and Pristina aimed at improving relations between Serbia and Kosovo — a key condition for EU integration.
Surveys conducted just ahead of the second round had projected that Tadic, the Democratic Party leader, would win comfortably with up to 58 percent of the vote.
“This was an electoral earthquake, a totally unexpected result,” political analyst Slobodan Antonic said on Serbia’s RTS state television.
While the ruling parties did well in parliamentary elections two weeks ago, “maybe voters now decided it was the time to punish them a bit,” he said.
Other analysts blamed the low turnout of 46.86 percent of voters and the high number of invalid votes at about 3 percent for the upset.
During the election campaign, Nikolic, who lost to Tadic in 2004 and 2008, tapped into voter discontent about the worsening economic situation in Serbia, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe at 24 percent.
The unexpected result will impact the formation of Serbia’s government as it could break up an earlier agreed pro-European alliance between the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, the third force in the future parliament.
Late on Sunday, top Socialist official Dusan Bajatovic said there was “no reason to change the deal now,” raising the possibility of a cohabitation with Nikolic as president and a government led by the Democrats.
However, he pointed out that as president, it would be Nikolic who will hand out the mandate to a party to form a government.