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Serbia Prepares to Vote in Parliamentary Elections

Serbians go the polls for parliamentary elections Sunday. Voters will be choosing candidates from 20 political parties and coalitions who are vying for 250 seats in parliament. VOA's Barry Wood in Belgrade reports that while three major parties are expected to win the most votes, forming a stable coalition may be difficult.

Polling data indicates that the nationalist Radical Party, the pro-European Democratic Party, and the conservative Democratic Party of Serbia will get the most votes. But no single party is expected to obtain much more than 30 percent of the vote.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica heads the Democratic Party of Serbia. His minority government has held power for three years with the tacit support of the opposition Radicals and Socialists. In this campaign Mr. Kostunica has pointedly refused to rule out a future coalition with the Radicals, which some pollsters predict will be the leading vote getters.

The Radicals, whose leader is on trial in the Hague for crimes committed during the Bosnian war, oppose further cooperation with the war crimes tribunal.

Like Mr. Kostunica, the Radicals also reject any diminution of Serbia's claim to Kosovo, the United Nations administered southern province whose 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority demands independence.

The Democrats of President Boris Tadic say Kosovo may have been lost when Serbian troops left the province in 1999, after NATO launched a bombing campaign in response to Serbian atrocities against the Albanian population.

Boris Begovic of Belgrade's Center for Liberal Democratic Studies says it is unclear whether a stable government will result from Sunday's election.

"There is a concept of a solid stable government, which will be the government for the next three or four years. Or, there is the concept of a short-term interim government-a six-months government if you like-which will have only one task to handle and that is the future status of Kosovo," he said.

U.N. negotiators have been working nearly one year to prepare recommendations for Kosovo's future. Submission of their proposal - which is expected to include a call for limited independence - was delayed so that it would not dominate the Serbian election campaign. It is expected to be unveiled in the next few weeks.

James Lyon, Belgrade representative of the International Crisis Group, says that in the event of an indecisive election the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia have agreed that Mr. Kostunica will stay on as caretaker prime minister.

"If that is indeed the case then Kostunica will try to form a government. But there is a very real possibility that he will be unable to form a government and that after a statutory time period [90 to 120 days] no government will be formed and they will have to hold a new election," he said.

Lyon says the prime minister and president want to buy time to force a delay in the resolution of Kosovo's status. First results in the election are expected Sunday night.