- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia Serbia failed for a second time to elect a president yesterday, as too few voters showed up to cast ballots, deepening a political crisis in the dominant Yugoslav republic, according to exit polls.
The Center for Free Elections and Democracy, an independent group of observers, said turnout was around 45 percent, about the same as when the vote failed in October for not meeting the required 50 percent turnout.
"We can definitely say" the elections failed, said Zoran Lucic, a group spokesman.
The low turnout was a serious blow to the top contender, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who gathered 58 percent of the vote yesterday, independent observers said. Mr. Kostunica, a moderate nationalist with pro-democratic views, also dominated the October ballot.
It was not clear what would happen if officials declared yesterday's vote invalid. The Serbian constitution has no provisions regarding the repeated failure of the vote. But a failure likely would fuel the political feud between Mr. Kostunica and his top rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Early todayMr. Kostunica said he would take the issue to court.
"We will not recognize the results of this election," Mr. Kostunica said hours after the polls closed. "Crime is the right word for what happened here."
Mr. Djindjic's pro-Western government did not field its own candidate and has refrained from endorsing Mr. Kostunica mostly because of his nationalist and anti-reformist views.
Mr. Kostunica has indicated he would seek early parliamentary elections in an effort to bring down Mr. Djindjic. His rival would like to see the law changed to have the president elected by Serbia's parliament, instead of by a popular vote.
That would give Mr. Djindjic a chance to nominate a candidate of his choice who would be assured of victory because Mr. Djindjic controls the Serbian legislature.
Mr. Kostunica led the popular movement in 2000 that toppled Slobodan Milosevic, the autocratic Yugoslav ex-president on trial for war crimes at the U.N. court in The Hague.
He faced two extremists: Vojislav Seselj of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party an ally of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Borislav Pelevic of the Serbian Unity Party, founded by the late Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as Arkan.
Exit polls also showed that Mr. Seselj won 36 percent, while Mr. Pelevic had 3.4 percent, election monitors said. Many voters stayed home amid widespread apathy and freezing temperatures, analysts said.
Slow economic and social reforms, scandals and perpetual power struggles between Mr. Kostunica and Mr. Djindjic have disillusioned Serbs, who are more concerned with their dire living standards and rampant unemployment.
Though the national currency, the dinar, has remained stable, buying power has eroded as prices climb. The cost of feeding a family of four has risen from $150 to $400 per month in the past two years, according to government figures.
"What is there to vote for when nothing will change after Sunday?" asked Radmila Micic, an unemployed economist and mother of two. "I'd better stay home Sunday and see to lunch."
The presidential vote, two years after Mr. Milosevic's ouster, aims to pick a successor to incumbent Milan Milutinovic, whose term ends in January.


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