U.S. officials are still closely monitoring events in Yugoslavia, where the democratic opposition looks set to secure a first-round victory following weekend elections. What is not as clear, according to RFE/RL senior correspondent Lisa McAdams, is whether or not Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will yield to the apparent will of his people for democratic change.
Washington, 26 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United States is cautiously welcoming the democratic Yugoslav opposition's apparent strong showing in Sunday's federal presidential, parliamentary, and Serbian local elections.
State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says the Yugoslav people have spoken clearly for democratic change and, that by all indications, the opposition is heading for a "convincing victory."
"What is clear is that things have changed in Belgrade, things have changed in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav people have had a chance to stand up and say what they want. Do they want the continued isolation of the current regime, or do they want to be part of Europe? And I think it's clear that they have overwhelmingly chosen the path of democracy and reintegration into Europe."
At the same time, Boucher said there were "massive irregularities" and reports of fraud, as he put it, "in just about every size, shape and color one could imagine." He also said it was logical to assume there is some sort of government manipulation of the vote counting, as there was no first word of even preliminary results from officials in Belgrade more than 24 hours after the elections.
Asked then how and even why the U.S. government could put so much faith in opposition tallies of the results, Boucher acknowledged that it would have been preferable to have outside international observation of the elections. But he said the fact that there wasn't any, does not mean the U.S. must suspend all judgment:
"There's a lot of information on who's committing what kind of fraud. There's a lot of information on previous election results and the number of votes in various places that you can compare different results to. And when you see the fraud being committed massively on the side of the government, one has to accept that the other side, where there aren't these reports of massive fraud, is going to have a much more credible total."
In the absence of official results, Milosevic's left-wing coalition insisted Monday that the President was ahead in the vote count, but not far enough to guarantee that he would avoid a run-off with opposition challenger Vojislav Kostunica.
Boucher said he could not yet speak to how the U.S. would view a run-off, were one to be called, saying it would be up to what the opposition decides to do in that case. But opposition leader Zoran Djindjic already has said his group would not accept a run-off, "simply to appease Milosevic."
Kostunica Monday said that if Milosevic tries to tamper with the vote, the opposition would defend its apparent victory by peaceful means and protest for as long as it takes.
Boucher later reiterated the U.S view that if there is eventually a democratically elected government in Belgrade, the U.S. and others in the international community would take steps to lift sanctions. But Boucher was not as clear as to what would happen if Milosevic refused to cede power, or sparks a crisis, as many still fear.
Throughout Europe, the reaction to a possible Milosevic defeat was almost euphoric. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini warned of "devastating consequences" if Milosevic tries to steal the election. And British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook characterized Milosevic as a "beaten, broken-backed" president.
But Boucher's comments on behalf of the United States were much more controlled, as evidenced by this remark highlighting what he says is still the greatest unknown factor in all this:
"The question is whether they (the regime in Belgrade) are willing to recognize the voice of the people here, recognize what the true trends are, and accept that this will of the people needs to be respected."
At the White House, officials didn't ask but rather urged Milosevic and his government to accept defeat. White House spokesman Jake Siewert told reporters it is increasingly apparent the opposition has prevailed and that any claims by Milosevic to the contrary are "false."