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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Football beats politics in poll-weary Serbia
By Matt Prodger
BBC, Serbia

While the results from the first round of the presidential elections were being announced live on television, most of Serbia was watching another contest: Euro 2004.

As political party activists cheered on their candidates at campaign headquarters, people at home were watching France beat England.

Serbia
It is the fourth time in 18 months Serbia has voted for a leader
It's not surprising. This was the fourth attempt to elect a president, and voters are weary.

The good news is that this time the election will be successful - the law requiring a minimum turnout has been abolished.

The bad news is that most voters are unimpressed with the choice facing them in the run-off in two weeks time: Tomislav Nikolic and Boris Tadic.

Tomislav Nikolic is the candidate of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS). In the past, the party has advocated the creation of a Greater Serbia, it wants the Serb military and police returned to Kosovo, and it rejects the extradition of indictees to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

The leader of the party is already there: Vojislav Seselj is accused of instigating ethnic cleansing, torture and murder during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. He remains defiant.

Integration

Mr Nikolic describes Mr Seselj as a hero, but in the run-up to the elections the nationalist rhetoric has been toned down. There is talk of improving relations with the West, cracking down on corruption, and respecting all of Serbia's minorities.

Critics say he would be a disaster, sending Serbia back 10 years in time, and exacerbating its international isolation.

Tomislav Nikolic
Tomislav Nikolic has consistently led in opinion polls
His opponent is Boris Tadic, from the Democratic Party (DS), which was led by former prime minister Zoran Djindjic before his assassination in 2003. Mr Tadic says he wants reform, and the rapid integration of Serbia back into the international community, in particular the EU and Nato.

The government's candidate, Dragan Marsicanin of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), was eliminated in the first round, limping in at fourth place.

It's the party of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, and such a poor showing makes it likely that the current governing coalition is unlikely to survive much longer without a major reshuffle or parliamentary elections.

Disillusion

For Boris Tadic to beat Tomislav Nikolic to the presidency, he'll need the votes of other candidates, but they are bitterly divided. And there's a wild card: Serbia's wealthiest businessman Bogoljub Karic, who came in third.

How his followers will vote in the run-off is anybody's guess.

In the four years since Milosevic was toppled, democracy has failed to bring the results most people in Serbia hoped for.

The first post-Milosevic prime minister was assassinated, the average monthly wage is only around $200 (110), the gap between rich and poor huge, and the political elite is widely perceived as corrupt and incompetent. Disillusionment runs deep.

Nevertheless, Serbia will finally elect its president on 27 June and voters will be glued to their TV sets once more: it's the Euro 2004 quarter-finals.




SEE ALSO:
Serbia faces close run-off poll
14 Jun 04 |  Europe
Profile: Tomislav Nikolic
15 Apr 04 |  Europe
Serb turnout worst in past year
18 Nov 03 |  Europe
Serb Radical outlines ambitions
30 Dec 03 |  Europe


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