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Need to Redo Serbian Election Could Create Political Instability - 2002-10-16


Sunday's presidential run-off election in Serbia was voided because voter turn out failed to reach the 50 percent minimum required by the Milosevic era constitution. The need to redo the election from scratch, probably in December, could create political instability in Serbia.

It was a contest of moderate reform, exemplified by Vojislav Kostunica, versa radical economic reform favored by Miroljub Labus, the principal aide of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. While Mr. Kostunica trounced his opponent by a 3-1 margin, the real winner might be ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj, who garnered 23 percent of the vote in the September 29 first round. Mr. Seselj, in a move endorsed from prison by Slobodan Milosevic, urged his supporters to boycott the runoff. The turnout was under 45 percent compared to the 55 percent who voted in the first round.

Political analysts are divided as to the implications of the electoral debacle. "The worst [result] is indecisiveness in terms of stalemate," said Willem Blankert, a senior official at the European Union mission in Belgrade. "There is no clear outcome, no clear pointing of the electorate saying we want this or we want that party to take the lead. Here there was simply lack of interest by the electorate. So those who are there stay in place."

Boris Begovic, until earlier this year a leading reformer in the federal government, said the electoral stalemate adds a dangerous element to a reform process that had already begun to slow from a decisive launch 18 months ago. To regain momentum, he said, a new legislative initiative is needed. "One change should be a new batch of legislation which deals mostly with economics," noted Boris Begovic. "I'm talking about a new bankruptcy law, a new security transaction law, urban land law, competition law and other things. By adopting these pieces of legislation a new legislative framework for the economy would be almost completed."

Mr. Begovic believes the market based reforms are not yet irreversible. He said judicial reform and enterprise restructuring are additional priorities.

Mr. Begovic said to avert political instability Prime Minister Djindjic and Mr. Kostunica should forge a political truce that would provide a useful pause before a new round of presidential and parliamentary elections. "If they continue to fight each other like they did in the last couple of months, I do not believe that these pieces of legislation can be pushed through the parliament because we've got, whether we like it or not, a parliamentary crisis," he said. "And that parliamentary crisis in Serbia deals with the political conflict between Mr. Djindjic and Mr. Kostunica."

Mr. Kostunica, the Yugoslav president and Serbia's most popular politician, is pressing a legal challenge to the election result. He is an advocate of early parliamentary elections and says he looks forward to the demise of the Djindjic government. On economics, Mr. Kostunica favors a slowdown of the rapid, big-bang approach to building a market economy.

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