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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Analysis: Milosevic's options
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his wife Mirjana Markovic, voting
Mr Milosevic seems determined to stay in power
By south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The opposition has been arguing all along that the authorities will rig the ballot - as they have done on previous occasions - primarily by inflating the voter turnout in areas where there has been an overwhelming boycott of the elections.

That means Kosovo and Montenegro, where much of the voting took place in improvised polling stations without proper supervision by opposition representatives.

However, if these additional "phantom" votes do not deliver victory for President Milosevic, he might try, at the very least, to deprive Mr Kostunica of the absolute majority required for an outright victory now.

He could, then, take the contest into a second and final round on 8 October. That would give Mr Milosevic more time to rally support and intimidate the opposition.

Delaying powers

In the meantime, the authorities may also challenge votes for the opposition on spurious or trivial grounds - another tactic used before, especially during 1996 when the opposition's victories in Serbia's municipal elections were annulled, only to be reinstated after three months of mass daily protests.

Using this method could drag out the electoral verification process for months since the courts are dominated by the Milosevic administration.

Riot police stand ready
Mr Milosevic needs the support of the police
Even if that response failed to provide Mr Milosevic with the desired result, he would almost certainly not step down for the time being - on the grounds that his current term does not run out until next summer.

This argument would be highly controversial - after all, it was his initiative to call the elections now.

But that strategy would give him time to transfer his position and executive functions from the Yugoslav federal presidency back to his power base within the republic of Serbia itself.

He could then deprive Mr Kostunica of all effective powers, leaving the Yugoslav federation an empty shell

The use of force against the opposition would probably be the last resort. But Mr Milosevic has his entire future at stake. As an indicted war crimes suspect, he could end up before the United Nations Tribunal in The Hague. So he might deploy the security forces in a robust way if public anger at his tactics boiled over into street protests.

The option of a crackdown or state of emergency - with possible diversionary moves against pro-Western Montenegro - cannot be ruled out. But it would be a potentially risky undertaking.

As President Milosevic appears increasingly vulnerable, the loyalty of the police and the army can no longer be taken for granted.

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See also:

25 Sep 00 | Europe
Dispute over Yugoslav poll
25 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Milosevic should go - Cook
23 Sep 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
A cold shower for Serbs?
22 Sep 00 | Europe
Milosevic 'will stay in power'
23 Sep 00 | Europe
Row over Yugoslav poll security
24 Sep 00 | Europe
Kosovo Serbs stand by their man
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