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Serbian Presidential Election Goes to Runoff


Serbian hardliner Tomislav Nikolic, who won the most votes in Sunday's presidential election, will face incumbent President Boris Tadic in a February 3 runoff. VOA's Barry Wood has more from Belgrade.

Turnout was unexpectedly high in Sunday's election, with more than four million voters, 61 percent of those eligible, casting ballots. Challenger Tomislav Nikolic won the most votes, over 39 percent of the total, but he is not assured of victory in the final round.

Analysts say endorsements from the seven losing candidates plus Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica could be decisive.

Political analyst Bratislav Grubacic says it is too early to make predictions about the second round. He says if the Radical Party leader wins, that will be bad for business.

"Everybody in the world and partly here in Serbia will become a bit cautious about what is going on [if Nikolic wins]," he said. "It might lead to a fall in the stock exchange, the rising up of the euro [currency] rate and the fall of the dinar, and this kind of stuff."

The Radical Party in the 1990s was closely linked to former strongman Slobodan Milosevic. The party's titular leader, Vojislav Sesjl, is on trial for crimes allegedly committed during the wars of Yugoslav secession.

Grubacic says he does not believe Kosovo's planned declaration of independence was a divisive issue in the Serbian election. Grubacic says that is because all but one of the nine candidates strenuously opposed the loss of Kosovo, Serbia's southern province that has a 90 percent ethnic-Albanian majority.

"When you listen to their rhetoric concerning Kosovo in their election campaigns, you can easily see that they [Tadic and Nikolic] are more or less on the same track," he said.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign that drove Serb forces out of the province, where they were accused of widespread atrocities against the ethnic-Albanian majority. Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian government is expected to declare its independence within the next few weeks.

Both the runoff candidates say they favor closer Serbian ties with the European Union. Mr. Nikolic rejects the notion that he favors closer links with Russia than with the West.