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Serbia Third Attempt to Choose a President Fails

Serbia's third attempt to choose a president failed Sunday because of low voter turnout. The results are also a setback for reformist parties. The reformist presidential candidate received only 35 percent of the vote, while 46 percent of the vote went to the Ultra-nationalist candidate.

Tomislav Nikolic of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, whose leader is on trial for war crimes at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, outpolled reformist presidential candidate Dragoljub Micunovic. Mr. Nikolic can not become Serbian head of state yet, as the third ballot in over a year was declared invalid because voter turnout was below the required 50 percent.

But the outcome of this presidential poll is a major setback for Serbia's reformist parties at a time when it prepares for parliamentary elections next month, one year ahead of schedule.

The 49-year-old Mr. Nikolic has accused the 18-party ruling coalition government of "brutal" capitalism in Serbia, where poverty is widespread and nearly one in three people of working age is out of a job. In addition, he demanded the resignation of pro-Western Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, if elected head of state and threatened with massive protests if he refused to step down.

Mr. Nikolic made it clear in his pre-election campaign he wants to turn back the clock on cooperation with the West, saying he would not hand over war crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal. He said he would "avenge" the transfer to The Hague of high profile Serbs, including former President Slobodan Milosevic, who is answering war crimes charges such as atrocities in Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo.

Analysts say the outcome of Sunday's presidential poll should serve as a wake-up call for Serbia, like in France where far-right campaigner Jean-Marie Le Pen defeated Socialist leader Lionel Jospin. He managed to win a place in the run-off vote for the presidency against Jacques Chirac in April 2002, but was finally defeated after the political establishment buried their differences.

However there is concern among Western diplomats that political infighting among the reformists, which ousted Mr. Milosevic in 2000, will make getting support for them in Serbia a difficult process.

The situation worsened this year following the assassination of Zoran Djindjic. He was Serbia's first democratic prime minister since World War Two.

Serbia forms a lose alliance with tiny Montenegro, which replaced what remained of Yugoslavia, earlier this year.