Page last updated at 08:28 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 09:28 UK

Q&A: Serbian election

Serbian election campaigners
Serbian campaigners show their favoured colours

Serbs voted on 11 May in the first general election since Kosovo declared independence on 17 February - an event that sharply polarised Serbian society.

Serbia's coalition government collapsed in March as a result of irreconcilable divisions over how to respond to Kosovo's bid for independence, and early elections were called.

Commentators see the outcome of the election as being critical for Serbia's future and the country's progress towards EU membership.

Q: How did Kosovo's declaration of independence trigger early elections?

The governing coalition of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's moderate nationalists and President Boris Tadic's pro-Western bloc collapsed over whether the country should remain on its European course, despite the decision of most EU countries to recognise Kosovo's independence.

Mr Kostunica resigned, saying that he could "no longer trust his ruling coalition partners over their commitment to preserve Kosovo", and Mr Tadic called early elections.

Q: What were the main issues?

Kosovo and Serbia's relationship with the EU were the two main and inextricably intertwined campaign issues. Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic recently described the elections as being effectively a referendum on Serbia's EU integration.

Eventual EU membership is seen as being essential to the country's economic development, and opinion polls conducted after 17 February showed that almost 64% of Serbian citizens still favoured joining the EU.

However, more than 71% are opposed to EU membership if it is made conditional on Serbia recognising independence for Kosovo - a province that many regard as the birthplace of Serbian statehood.

Q: How do the main parties stand on these issues?

Mr Tadic's pro-European Democratic Party (DS) has emphasised the economic benefits likely to result from further European integration.

On 29 April, he concluded a pre-membership deal with the EU known as the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

The SAA is a deal intended to place Serbia firmly on the path to EU candidacy, and was devised by the EU as a way of boosting the pro-European bloc in the polls.

It will not be ratified until Serbia fully co-operates with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, but once ratified, Belgrade will be granted closer trade relations and more relaxed visa requirements.

Mr Tadic maintains that signing the SAA does not amount to accepting the independence of Kosovo.

He argues that Serbia has no alternative but to join the EU as soon as possible and says that it will be better placed to oppose Kosovo independence from within the EU.

The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and the nationalist opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Tomislav Nikolic spearhead the EU-sceptic camp.

These parties are not opposed to EU membership, but believe that it should not happen at any price.

The DSS insists that there can be no compromise over Kosovo and argues that a slower rate of EU integration will not undermine Serbia's economic growth.

Mr Kostunica says that the SAA effectively recognises the independence of Kosovo, and has pledged to annul it if his party returns to government after the elections.

Q: What is the likely outcome?

According to the results so far, no one party will win enough seats to form a government on its own, so a coalition government will have to be formed.

The negotiations could take up to three months - the legal deadline for forming a new coalition.

The coalition for a European Serbia, formed by President Tadic, will have the most seats in the new parliament. He told supporters that while he would campaign for Kosovo to stay part of Serbia, this was a victory for Serbia's European future.

Actually finding coalition partners to form a government may prove difficult for him and the hardline nationalists have already said that he has spoken too soon.

The nationalist SRS won the most seats in the previous parliamentary election, in January 2007.

Mr Kostunica's DSS is likely to be in the position of kingmaker in any future government, and the party could in theory form a coalition with either the SRS or Mr Tadic's Democratic Party.

Serbia and EU sign pact on ties
29 Apr 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Serbia
30 Apr 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Serbia
30 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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