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Serbia's Referendum Seen as Victory for Kostunica


Voters in Serbia have approved a new constitution in what regional analysts see as a victory for Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. The new constitution declares the province of Kosovo an integral part of Serbia.

Political analyst Vladimir Matic of America's Clemson University says Prime Minister Kostunica is the big winner from the constitutional referendum. The moderate nationalist, he says, skillfully used patriotism to bring feuding politicians together around the statement that Kosovo is forever part of Serbia. He says Kostunica is now in control of Serbia's politics.

All four leading political parties endorsed the constitution and called for their supporters to vote yes.

While over 53 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum and 51 percent of them voted yes, turnout was less than had been predicted. Marko Blagojevic of Belgrade's Center for Free Elections and Democracy says voters wanted input in the preparation of the new constitution.

"[However] They were not allowed to. They [the voters] were left to believe what the parties were telling them," he said. "And there is - and surveys are telling us this - a very low trust among voters in political parties and politicians. Only 20 percent of the population actually trusts the parties and politicians."

The constitution was prepared in secret by the four parties and handed to members of parliament only hours before they voted on it. Belgrade political analyst Bratislav Grubacic agrees that the low turnout in the referendum reflects lack of trust.

"It shows that basically the Serbian population doesn't trust anybody anymore," he said. "So, compared to the other political leaders, yes, Kostunica is the boss now, but if we see how the Serbian electorate reacts my personal opinion is that we are facing a situation in which you have less and less trust."

The constitution will be put into effect on November 5, after which parliament will debate the timing of early elections. Grubacic says the elections are unlikely to take place this year.

"I think that between the end of the year and March, somewhere there, we should basically have the elections," he said. "My guess is that they will be towards the end of January or early February."

Diplomats close to the six-nation contact group that is guiding the Kosovo status negotiations say Serbia's constitutional referendum and elections are unlikely to influence the U.N.-sponsored Kosovo talks, which are due to be concluded by the end of the year.

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