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Serbian Voters Cast Ballots in Presidential Election


Serbs are voting Sunday in the first round of a presidential election that will determine whether incumbent pro-western President Boris Tadic will fend off a challenge from radical nationalist Tomislav Nickolic. VOA's Barry Wood in Belgrade reports that none of the nine candidates on the ballot is expected to win a majority, meaning a runoff between the top two vote getters would take place on February 3.

Voting throughout Serbia has been steady and routine. Turnout late in the day was said to be higher than expected.

Pollster Marko Blagojevic says the campaign failed to ignite much voter interest as the differences between the candidates were not viewed as particularly significant. Blagojevic says pre-election surveys found that voters did not view the election as a choice between nationalism and pro-European integration.

"It may very well happen that more voters are now failing to register the difference between [the top] two candidates mainly because of the way both of them were campaigning," he said.

Both leading candidates have spoken of closer ties with the European Union and emphasized the need for faster economic growth.

Eight of the nine candidates said the disputed Kosovo Province must remain part of Serbia, even though Belgrade has not administered the territory since 1999. They reject independence for Kosovo, an action favored by its Albanian majority. Kosovo's prime minister says a declaration of independence could come within a few weeks.

Pollster Blagovic expects Radical Party leader Tomislav Nickolic to win the most votes in the first round, but fall short of the necessary majority. A second-round outcome, says Blagojevic, is difficult to predict with an endorsement from Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica being a wild card.

Mr. Kostunica pointedly declined to endorse Mr. Tadic in the first round, even though the president's party is a leading member of the ruling coalition led by the prime minister.

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