- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

With a month to go in the campaign, Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic appears poised to cling to power despite adverse polls and a concerted U.S. effort to aid his divided opposition.
Analysts said Mr. Milosevic retains such a firm grip on the state media and the electoral machinery that there is little chance he will be ousted in the Sept. 24 ballot, paving the way for up to eight more years in power.
"I don't think anybody in his right mind believes the Milosevic government would admit it if it lost in a fair election at the polls," said Kurt Bassuener, program officer for the Balkans Initiative run by the Washington-based U.S. Institute for Peace.
"Given the nature of the regime in Belgrade, it is nigh on impossible to expect a change of regime from the vote," said Mr. Bassuener, who added that the real test for the regime may come in the public reaction in the days after the results are announced.
A survey released late last week by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), which has studied the Serbian domestic scene intensively, also predicted Mr. Milosevic would triumph over his perennially divided opposition.
The vote will be the first national election since last year's disastrous conflict with NATO over Kosovo.
"In spite of claims by opposition leaders that Milosevic can be removed by popular will … serious doubts remain about the capacity of the opposition to mount a credible campaign," the ICG report said.
The pessimism persists despite two new polls this week that put Vojislav Kostunica, the candidate of a coalition of 15 opposition parties, ahead of Mr. Milosevic.
A poll released Monday by the Institute of Social Sciences gave Mr. Kostunica 35 percent to 23 percent for Mr. Milosevic, while a second poll by the Medium agency put his lead at 30 percent to 25 percent.
But efforts to get a second opposition candidate Belgrade Mayor Vojislav Mihajlovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement, or SPO to stand aside for Mr. Kostunica have been rejected by SPO leader Vuk Draskovic.
Adding to the mounting unease over next month's vote was a protest lodged yesterday by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that one of its teams assigned to monitor the vote had not been granted visas. It is not clear whether Mr. Milosevic will allow international observers in to monitor the vote.
Under constitutional changes pushed through Yugoslavia's parliament by Milosevic allies last month, the country will hold presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections on Sept. 24.
Mr. Milosevic, who under the old constitution would have had to step down next summer, now is eligible to serve two new four-year terms in Belgrade.
Clinton administration efforts to aid Mr. Milosevic's rivals have played to mixed reviews inside Serbia.
The State Department last week announced that it was opening a new office in Budapest to work with democratic opposition figures seeking to oust Mr. Milosevic. U.S. Ambassador to Croatia William Montgomery will head up the office.
But Mr. Kostunica complained that the opening of the Budapest office was an "American kiss of death to the democratic forces of Serbia."
"It takes a great deal of arrogance … to say that promoting democracy in Serbia is a long-term U.S. goal. Democracy in Serbia is Serbia's goal, and no one else is entitled to it," said Mr. Kostunica, who echoed complaints by Mr. Milosevic's allies that the office was part of a U.S. plan to break up the country.
State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker called that a "ridiculous suggestion," saying the U.S. effort was simply a response to the misery Mr. Milosevic has inflicted on his own people after more than a decade in power.
The ICG analysis found that Serbian nationalism and resentment of Western pressure play into the hands of Mr. Milosevic's still-potent propaganda machine.
And many leading opposition figures share Mr. Milosevic's sense of Serbian grievance, even though they want to see the president go after a decade of turbulence, territorial loss and economic decline.
"Almost every candidate and party seeks to compete with Milosevic in his own nationalist arena, thus complicating their relationships with the West and adding to the Serbian people's confusion," the ICG analysis notes.
The Clinton administration has also been frustrated in its efforts to persuade the pro-Western leaders of Montenegro, the junior partner to Serbia in the Yugoslav federation, to team with Serbian opposition forces in next month's vote.
Angry that Mr. Milosevic's constitutional rewrite dilutes their power in parliament, Montenegro's leaders say they will boycott the vote.
Opposition factions tried to combat their ineffectual image by releasing a 16-page unified platform last week. The document calls for tax and currency reform, the establishment of an independent judiciary, new military and police oversight, and more freedom for the country's press and universities.

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