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Yugoslavia: Kostunica, Labus Advance To Runoff In Serbia's Presidential Elections

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus have come out on top in the first round of presidential elections in Serbia among a field of 11 candidates. The two men will meet again in a runoff in two weeks.

Podgorica, 30 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The first round of Serbian presidential elections brought no surprises. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica came in first place with 31.2 percent of the vote. Second place went to Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus with 27.7 percent of the vote. Ultranational Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj came in third with 22.5 percent.

Kostunica said today the outcome is encouraging, since the largest share of voters, in his view, avoided extremes. However, he lashed out at the reformer, Labus, and the nationalist, Seselj. "It is my deepest conviction that both Labus and Seselj are extremists. There is a stereotypical opinion that only Seselj is an extremist, but so is Labus for uncritically accepting all demands by international financial institutions regardless of the social situation in the country and the absence of a democratic legislative framework," Kostunica said.

For his part, Labus, who has said he wants to see Serbia join the European Union by 2010, expressed relief at having qualified for the 13 October runoff. "I am satisfied with the results because I started from scratch and won a million votes. I do believe that in the second round, I'll convey my message to all those who are now in doubt whether Serbia should continue with economic and democratic reforms and admittance into the European Union as quickly as I would like to see it," Labus said.

The outcome of the first round is significant both for the future relationship between the Serbian president and the Serbian government of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and for the future relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. Leaders of the two republics that make up rump Yugoslavia agreed under strong pressure from the EU and the United States earlier this year to a new common state, Serbia-Montenegro. Early parliamentary elections in Montenegro are scheduled for 20 October and may well be influenced by the outcome in Serbia.

Podgorica-based political analyst Nebojsa Medojevic, who heads the independent Center for Transformation, said those who voted for Kostunica do not support the kind of sweeping economic reforms that the Serbian republic's government favors. "We can state that the Djindjic cabinet's reforms were supported by only 27 percent of voters, [those who voted for Labus]. So we can speak of a deficit of legitimacy and the danger that the citizens have lost faith in the reformist elite. There is a very thin line between this and citizens losing trust in reforms, which has happened in many states in transition, including Montenegro in 1997," Medojevic said.

Medojevic said this "strengthening of right-wing parties in Serbia reduces the support for reform and could be very dangerous in terms of regional security and all forms of European integration, which can now slowly turn us into an international protectorate."

Another Podgorica-based political analyst, Miodrag Vlahovic, director of the Center for Regional and Security Studies, a local nongovernmental organization, said the outcome of the weekend vote is relatively insignificant for Montenegro. More significant, he said, are the relatively low voter turnout in Serbia of only 56 percent and the lower support for Kostunica and Labus than had been expected. "A very problematic possibility for Serbia has arisen that in the second round of the elections, not even 50 percent [of registered voters] plus one vote will be cast [the minimum required for the vote to be valid], which would raise the possibility of the elections having to be repeated," Vlahovic said.

Vlahovic described the relatively strong support for ultranationalist Seselj as a result of the wars of the past 11 years on the territories of the former Yugoslavia. He said a part of Serbian society still harbors what he terms "ultraright nationalist-chauvinist" views. But he noted that this is not a new development in Serbia.

Seselj is expected to throw his support behind Kostunica, who Vlahovic said will have a clear, nationally oriented, and nationalist center-right profile, which will offer "moral support" to those forces in Montenegro that want the republic to be in a common state with Serbia under any circumstances.

Vlahovic noted that the recent postponement of the Montenegrin parliamentary elections from 6 October to 20 October was the hope of some Montenegrin politicians that a victory by Kostunica would benefit like-minded parties in Montenegro.

As Vlahovic put it, "On the whole, the idea of Montenegro being equal with Serbia in a loose common union is still unacceptable for the dominant forces in Serbia."

"However," he added, "if we look at the results of all the candidates and the projections [for the next round], I see that Montenegro has very few allies in Serbia who would treat it as an equal subject, who'd be willing to enter a loose common union with Montenegro in which Montenegro would be secure in its national cultural identity and integrity."

Vlahovic said the outcome is an unacceptable result for Serbia's pro-reform Prime Minister Djindjic. He also said they are an indication that there are forces who are either opposed to reforms and democratization or in favor of democratization and reforms, but in word, not in deed, as he says has always been the case in Serbia. As a result, there will continue to be an open struggle and antagonism between the Kostunica and Djindjic camps.

The main opposition party, the Socialist People's Party (SNP), said the victory of Kostunica's ideas is affirmation of the Montenegrin opposition's ideals.

But Miodrag Vukovic, an aide to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), said a positive effect of the elections is that "the Serb nationalists have shown their cards." He said "if Kostunica won on the basis of the nationalist card, it is not an absolute victory."

And Miodrag Ilickovic, deputy chairman of the ruling coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, said the victory of "nationalist and xenophobic policies in the elections" serves as a warning of the danger of instability. "Everything [that] Europe wanted from Belgrade in order to stabilize the Balkans -- regulating relations with Kosovo, the status of Republika Srpska, relations with Montenegro, and cooperation with The Hague war crimes tribunal -- can turn to its disadvantage" by provoking voters to elect nationalists, Ilickovic said.

The head of the pro-government, three-party Albanian minority coalition in the Montenegrin parliament, Ferhat Dinosha, told RFE/RL the continued strength of nationalist forces in Serbia means that Montenegro will have to try to find the road toward "regional, European, and trans-Atlantic integration" and toward becoming a fully fledged internationally recognized subject. "But Montenegro can go into integration only as a subject, not as a part of a federation or confederation with Serbia, because it is clear that, except for 'verbal democracy' [freedom of speech], there is nothing new in Belgrade as far as Montenegro is concerned, as far as [the internationally administered province of] Kosovo is concerned. [Kostunica and Seselj] speak otherwise but they think the same way that [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic used to think about the issues," Dinosha said.

Dinosha predicted that the outcome of the Serbian presidential elections will strengthen "pro-Montenegrin," i.e., pro-sovereignty, forces in the 20 October parliamentary elections, because it is clear that Montenegro cannot find itself in state union with Serbia. "Montenegrins should think more of Podgorica than of Belgrade," Dinosha said.