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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 January 2007, 16:29 GMT
Serbians head to low-key polls
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Belgrade

Radical Party rally
The Radical Party has avoided the more nationalist issues

After years of political turmoil, war, and international isolation, Serbia has experienced something of a low-key campaign heading into Sunday's general election.

Many of the old issues have been bubbling along in the background, especially that of Kosovo, but that is a sign of how the political landscape in the country has cleared over recent months.

Montenegro and Serbia finally split into two independent states, thus marking the final break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Economic issues

Serbia finally adopted a constitution, updating the one that had been used since the days of the autocrat leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has centred much of his party's campaign on the issue of Kosovo and how the party does not want to see it obtain the independence that the vast majority of its Albanian population would like to see.

Bozidar Djelic
We want to kick-start the talks with the EU again
Bozidar Djelic,
Democratic Party

The prime minister has said Serbia will never accept an independent Kosovo and has offered autonomy to the Albanians.

But the basic division at this election is between the main pro-reform parties and the hardline nationalists.

The main pro-Western, pro-reform Democratic Party has concentrated much of its campaign on getting Serbia into the European Union and improving the economy.

"We want to kick-start the talks with the EU again, which have been frozen because of a lack of co-operation by this government with the Hague Tribunal [for war crimes], and achieve candidate status by the end of this year," says Bozidar Djelic, the party's candidate for prime minister.

Meanwhile, at the huge basketball arena in New Belgrade, thousands have turned out for the party convention of the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party.

Its leader, Vojislav Seselj, is in The Hague facing war crimes charges.

The current leadership has mainly avoided more nationalist issues during the campaign and concentrated on matters such as tackling corruption.

"We need an honest government that will deal with crime and corruption," says Zorica Milicevic, 34, one of the party's supporters.

"The current government has just not dealt with these issues. And the issue of Kosovo is also very important. It will be very sad if the international community gives it independence."

Baptism of fire

Some believe there will be little change after the election.

Zorica Milicevic
Kosovo independence would be "very sad", says Zorica Milicevic

"This is not one of those elections in Serbia that will decide the future, the destiny of Serbia, but simply an election that will rearrange a little the political field," says Ljiljana Smajlovic, editor of the influential daily newspaper, Politika.

"Everyone realises that not a lot is going to change. By Serbian standards this has been an uneventful and uninspiring campaign - which is good, to be honest."

But whoever forms the next government, and it is likely to be some brand of coalition, they will face a baptism of fire.

The UN is due to make a decision on the long-term status of the Serbian province of Kosovo in the near future.

The majority Albanian population want independence and it is likely some form of independence will be granted.

How the Serbian government deals with this will have important implications not only for the stability of Serbia but also for the stability of the Balkans as a whole.


SEE ALSO
Kosovo looms large in Serb poll
18 Jan 07 |  Europe
Q&A: Serbian election
18 Jan 07 |  Europe
Albanians end boycott in Serbia
06 Dec 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Serbia
10 Nov 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Serbia
16 Dec 06 |  Country profiles

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