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Milosevic Routed

Serbia's Democratic Opposition romps home with almost 65 per cent of the vote in the country's crucial parliamentary elections
By Heather Milner

Latest results from Serbia's parliamentary elections show the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS on 64.5 per cent of the vote with 92 per cent of ballots counted. The coalition expects to secure 176 seats in the 250-member chamber.


The Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, led by ousted president Slobodan Milosevic, scored only 13.5 per cent. The party is expected to secure 37 seats in the new parliament, down from 110 before the December 23 poll. Other ultra-nationalist parties, including Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party, are also expected to muster 37 seats.


Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic said he hoped to form a government by January 10.


But that government faces severe problems on almost every front - the economy, infrastructure, domestic politics and foreign relations.


The coalition itself is made up of 18 disparate parties and is beset with personal rivalries, not least between Djindjic and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. DOS lumps together ex-Socialists and free-marketeers, pro-Westerners and nationalists. All the leading lights in the coalition are leaders of their own parties.


In southern Serbia a recent upsurge in violence between Albanian separatists and Serbian police has further complicated any future relations with Kosovo Albanians and the international administration in the province.


On December 25 the Yugoslav government presented a draft resolution to parliament asking the United Nations to set a deadline for the withdrawal of Albanian separatists from southern Serbia. The draft resolution states that if no such action is taken Yugoslavia "will solve the problem itself, respecting all internationally permitted measures in fighting terrorism, which is its legal and legitimate right and its obligation."


On the same day Serbian Energy Minister Srboljub Antic announced a three-fold increase in emergency power blackouts to prevent the country's grid from being cut-off by neighbouring countries angered at Serbia's unauthorised use of power supplies.


"We should not forget that our entire economy is on its knees and that the Serbian government will have to do everything immediately to launch its recovery," Djindjic told a local television station.


One of the government's first tasks will be to remove Milosevic loyalists from key posts in the Serbian security services. Prime target is head of the secret police Rade Markovic.


"I think he's already packed his bags and left his office. There is no other option," Djindjic said in the daily newspaper Blic.


Justice Minister-designate Vladen Batic said, "The arrests of all those who have bloodied or dirtied their hands in the previous period are inevitable, and no one will be amnestied, nor will there be any deals with powerful financial figures."


Batic added the constitution would have to be rewritten to meet European Union standards. "It will be a huge job to affirm the division of legislative, executive and judicial powers," he said.


Nebosja Covic, a likely deputy prime minister in the new Serbian government, called for Milosevic and other senior officials to be arrested before the New Year "so we don't get into the next century cursed."


Covic accused the former president and his wife Mirjana Markovic of "vampire-like profit-making on the blood of others".


SPS vice president Ivica Dacic admitted senior members of the Milosevic government would undoubtedly face investigation under the DOS administration.


"We are aware that an era of persecutions of our prominent members will follow," Dacic said. "This is a necessary alibi [for DOS] for not being able to do things as quickly as expected."


Dacic said, however, the SPS were generally satisfied by their party's showing in the polls.


"It is a great achievement to have survived on the political scene following the September elections and events on October 5 and all efforts to break up our party," Dacic said.


"The most important thing is that the SPS has survived on the Serbian political scene as the biggest opposition party...We consider our party has a future because this has been the hardest period for its survival. I do not believe our party will ever again go under this percentage of votes," Dacic said.


Mirjana Markovic's Party of the Yugoslav Left, JUL, was less magnanimous in defeat. The JUL - former coalition partners of the SPS - gained only 0.37 per cent of the vote, well below the necessary five per cent needed to win seats in parliament.


JUL spokeswoman Dragana Kuzmanovic said, "Today's elections will go down in Serbia's history in black letters."


Former Yugoslav Information Minister and JUL leader Goran Matic complained of media bias and a "lynch-mob" political atmosphere in the run-up to polling day.


"We hope Serbia will never again see such undemocratic elections and such intolerance as in these elections," Matic said on B-92 radio. "We shall fight to survive on the political scene and to act as a political party on the left."


One surprise result was the success of the ultra-nationalist Party of Serbian Unity, SSJ, founded by murdered gangland boss and former paramilitary leader Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic. The SSJ secured just over 5 per cent of the vote and is expected to take 14 seats in the new parliament.


"The fact that such a party will be represented in parliament is just one more proof of how carefully society must be healed and radical demagogy avoided," Djindjic said.


SSJ leader Borislav Pelevic said his party had expected to do even better.


"I don't know what's going on and I don't want to accuse anyone of robbery, but we did expect to win more votes," said Pelevic, former commander of Arkan's Serb Volunteer Guard.


The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, commended the elections as "a significant improvement over past elections."


Head of the OSCE mission in Belgrade Adrian Severin said the elections "mark the end of a sad and damaging period in Serbian history and an important step forward in the transition to democracy."


"The election was conducted largely in line with accepted international standards for democratic elections," Severin said.


Severin warned, however, there was some way to go.


"The rejection of Milosevic is not enough to set things right with the world. The forces of extreme nationalism are still alive and the dangers they represent should not be forgotten or under-estimated," he said.


World leaders have welcomed the DOS victory but have reminded Serbia's new leaders the question of Milosevic's extradition to The Hague is not going to go away.


United States State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, while congratulating DOS and the Serbian people, said, "The Democratic Opposition is now in a stronger position to carry out the reforms needed to fully integrate Serbia into the international community."


German foreign policy advisor Michael Stein was less veiled. He described the DOS victory as a "Christmas present for democracy in Europe", but added, "I believe the Serbs will understand that they have to work together with the international [Hague war crimes] tribunal...We agree with the democrats in Serbia that it will take a certain amount of time to get to this point. Democracy first has to be solidified, but this question will keep coming back and there is no way around it."


Heather Milner is IWPR Assistant Editor in London.


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