3rd Oct 2023

Radical candidate wins first round of Serbian elections

The eurosceptic nationalist candidate of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Tomislav Nikolic, won the first round in the country's presidential elections held on Sunday(20 January).

Mr Nikolic obtained 39.57 percent of the votes, followed by current president Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party, who received 35.45 percent, according to preliminary results reported by Serbian news agency Tanjug.

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Some 61 percent of the around 6.7 million people eligible to vote participated in the elections, marking the highest turnout since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

As none of the candidates achieved 50 percent of the votes, the two men will face each other in a run-off on 3 February – a situation similar to what happened in elections four years ago.

In 2004, the pro-Western and centrist Mr Tadic beat the eurosceptic Mr Nikolic, but analysts now say the second round will be "very unpredictable".

"I would think twice before saying which candidate is the favourite for the second round," political analyst Djordje Vukadinovic is quoted as saying by Le Monde.fr.

The redistribution of the votes of the three other candidates that obtained more than five percent will play a crucial part in the run-off.

While the votes for Milutin Mrkonjic, the Socialist Party of Serbia's candidate - around six percent - are expected to go to Mr Nikolic, those for Cedomir Jovanovic of the Liberal Democratic Party - around 5.6 percent - should benefit Mr Tadic.

The candidate of New Serbia Velimir Ilic, backed by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, came third in the elections with 7.6 percent and it is uncertain to whom his votes will go.

This means that Mr Kostunica may be in the position to decide the future direction of Serbia.

Result crucial for Serbia's EU future

The 3 February run-off between the radical and the moderate candidate is expected to be decisive for the country's EU future.

Both men have expressed their attachment to "national" questions such as the future status of the Serbian breakaway province of Kosovo, and both have reiterated their refusal to recognise an independent Kosovo.

However, Mr Tadic is expected to continue with Serbia's EU integration whatever happens in Kosovo, while Mr Nikolic's position is more radical.

In an interview with French daily Le Monde on Saturday (19 January), Mr Nikolic said that the EU is linking Serbia's EU integration with Kosovo's future, which means that "Brussels does not respect us [Serbia] and we are therefore under the obligation to turn ourselves to Russia."

But it would not be "a big loss" for Belgrade to cut ties with the EU anyway, as "all we lose are European funds", he added.

There had been suggestions that EU foreign ministers meeting at the end of this month may decide to let Serbia come a step closer to the EU by signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

However, the Netherlands in particular is blocking the move, arguing that Belgrade must cooperate fully with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague and hand over war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic.

Commenting on this, Mr Nikolic told Le Monde that "[Ratko] Mladic is not in Serbia. How can we arrest him?".

"Anyway, these charges [of genocide and crimes against humanity] are illegal and unfair. Mladic was only following orders," he added.


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