- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

For Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic, victory is not what he wins, but what he can get away with. So he was declaring victory again yesterday, before the official results of the Sunday presidential election had been released. Members of the electoral commission were told to stop working before the vote was counted Sunday night, and opposition representatives on the commission are not being allowed access to computers with the information from the vote. Serbian polls and a preliminary vote count show the Yugoslavian leader losing to former law professor and Serbian nationalist Vojislav Kostunica by almost 1 million votes. But reality is not important to the dictator who declared victory over NATO after he allowed his country to be bombed for 78 days.

With 60 percent of the vote counted, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) said Kostunica would receive 2,903,000 votes and Mr. Milosevic 1,920,000. Even for a man who is a master of voter fraud like Mr. Milosevic, this one will be hard to pull off. He has already indicated he would use phantom voters in Kosovo and Montenegro which is boycotting the election to boost his support. He may have also rigged votes in places international monitors are barred from entering: mental institutions, prisons and army barracks.

For the brave opposition who ventured out Sunday despite the assured vote rigging, there was Mr. Milosevic's army to deal with. The dictator deployed 700 federal troops to make sure the opposition was not stuffing the ballot boxes, and required the voters to show party officials who they voted for.

The dictator's fraud has become unpalatable even to his allies though. His ally in Montenegro, Momir Bulatovic, offered to resign after Mr. Milosevic asked him to stuff 100,000 fraudulent votes into ballot boxes for him, the private Montenegrin news agency, Montena fax, reported.

Germany, Britain, Italy, France and the European Union all declared they believe Mr. Milosevic to have lost. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believed voters had backed a change.

Yugoslavia's dictator-weary populace has shown it is capable of uniting against a repressive government despite fraud and threats of military force. One hopes this trend will continue in future administrations, rather than that they turn apathetic under further authoritarian rule.

While the electoral commission is forced to sit in silence without declaring results, Serbs are celebrating the outcome they have chosen. More than 20,000 opposition supporters gathered in a Belgrade square last night to voice their opposition to the man who has oppressed their country for more than a decade. "Kill yourself Slobodan and save Serbia," Belgrade voters chanted. Is that how Mr. Milosevic spells victory?

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