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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2007, 19:00 GMT
Q&A: Serbian election
Pre-election billboards showing Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (L), and President Boris Tadic (R)
Serbia's leaders are set for the fray

Serbs head for the polls on 21 January in the first parliamentary election since the break-up of the union with Montenegro in June 2006.

Commentators see this as the most critical election since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, as the outcome could affect Serbia's candidacy for the European Union.

Q: Why are the elections taking place?

After the break with Montenegro, Serbia adopted a new constitution in October 2006 which stipulated the dissolution of the current assembly, followed by elections for a new parliament.

Q: How does Serbia's voting system work?

A total of 3,799 candidates, organised in 20 coalitions and political parties, will be standing for 250 seats in the single-chamber assembly.

Members are elected for a four-year term through proportional representation.

About 6.6m people are eligible to vote inside the country, with a further 31,370 abroad.

Q: Which parties or coalitions are contesting the election?

The main parties or blocs are:

Democratic Party (DS) - Led by the current President of Serbia Boris Tadic. The party advocates a liberal economy, political pragmatism, co-operation with the international community, openness to dialogue and the need for regional co-operation.

Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and New Serbia (NS) - Led by current Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. This is a centre-right coalition advocating co-operation with the international community, but "not at any cost".

Serbian Radical Party (SRS) - Led by Tomislav Nikolic in the absence of Vojislav Seselj, who is on trial in The Hague on charges of inciting ethnic and religious hatred. The party's programme is based on the preservation of Serbia and its territorial integrity. Economically, it focuses on the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) - Led by Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic. Its programme calls for reintroduction of the monarchy, a free market economy, the return of nationalised property to former owners and for Kosovo to remain in Serbia.

Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) - Led by Ivica Dacic, who inherited the mantle of Slobodan Milosevic. The SPS advocates social justice, free education and social security for all. Mr Dacic's statement that Kosovo should be protected with arms, "should the need arise", has been widely quoted.

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Civic Alliance of Serbia (GSS), Social Democratic Union (SDU) and League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV) - Led by Cedomir Jovanovic. The coalition is wooing young, urban voters and pledges to fight for the rights of all minorities.

G17 Plus - Led by former Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic. Its programme is based on economic issues, such as a stable currency, lower interest rates, and ambitious plans for investing in the country's infrastructure. It also takes a clear pro-European position.

Q: What are the main issues?

Analysts say the focus of the electorate has shifted from national and political issues to economic topics, with one of the most prominent being the fight against corruption.

Politicians have tended to present the elections as a clash between the pro- and anti-European camps, but almost all the parties - except the nationalist SRS - advocate some sort of interaction with the European Union.

Co-operation with the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague is also an issue - specifically, the demand to hand over fugitive former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic. Belgrade's failure to do this led to the suspension of EU accession talks.

Although the new constitution stipulates that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia, the status of the province is still a hot political topic.

Q: Who is likely to win?

Recent opinion polls suggest the DSS-NS, the DS and the SRS will do well, although a low turnout is anticipated.

But observers believe a coalition of at least three parties, and possibly four, will be needed to form a new government.

Q: Are there any international observers?

Around 150 foreign observers will monitor the poll, including representatives from Nato, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Q: How soon will the results be known?

Final results must be published by 2000 hours local time (1900GMT) on 25 January.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

Kosovo looms large in Serb poll
18 Jan 07 |  Europe
Profile: Serbia and Montenegro
05 Jun 06 |  Country profiles

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