- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia Serbia's first presidential elections since Slobodan Milosevic's ouster failed yesterday because of a low voter turnout, setting the stage for a protracted power struggle in Yugoslavia's dominant republic.
Widespread apathy produced a voter response below the legal minimum of 50 percent, forcing the Serbs to re-launch the entire election process by Dec. 5.
Zoran Jancic of the State Electoral Commission said 45.5 percent of those eligible cast ballots. The low turnout was blamed on the slow pace of government reform, quarreling among pro-democracy leaders who ousted Mr. Milosevic and low living standards.
"There is definitely no possibility that the turnout could pass 50 percent," said Zoran Lucic, a spokesman for the independent Center for Free Elections and Democracy. "So, definitely, we did not reach the goal of these elections: We did not elect a president."
Mr. Lucic said exit polls showed that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica won 66.7 percent of the votes, and that deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus had 31.3 percent.
The Dec. 5 election deadline could change if Serbia adopts a new constitution, which Mr. Kostunica planned to do by the end of this year.
The failure of the vote paves the way for a continued power struggle between Mr. Kostunica and his archrival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Their clash over the pace and style of reforms has stalled badly needed changes after Mr. Milosevic's ruinous 13-year rule.
"This failure is damaging for the international position of our country and its reputation," said Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic. "We will, however, remain committed to the process of the country's transformation."
Official turnout figures and results were not expected before today.
In 1997, a vote for the Serbian presidency failed because of low turnout. A new round of voting the same year led to the election of Milan Milutinovic, the current Serbian president and a former ally of Mr. Milosevic's, who is now on trial before the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Mr. Milutinovic who kept a low profile after Mr. Milosevic's ouster in October 2000 also is wanted by the tribunal for suspected war crimes in Kosovo.
Mr. Kostunica yesterday criticized the Milosevic-era election law that requires large turnouts and two rounds of voting, calling it "irrational."
Mr. Kostunica has repeatedly said that a failure to elect the Serbian president would inflict "instability, tensions and chaos" on the republic and jeopardize unfinished reforms.
Mr. Kostunica, a moderate nationalist, finished first in the first round of the elections on Sept. 29, but failed to get a majority needed for outright victory. Mr. Kostunica succeeded Mr. Milosevic as Yugoslavia's president.
Turnout was 55 percent in the first round, but Milosevic allies who failed to make it to the runoff urged their supporters to boycott the vote. These included ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj.
Serbs had plenty of reasons to stay home: Many had hoped for a faster improvement in living standards after Mr. Milosevic.
Average salaries have gone up, but have barely kept pace with soaring prices despite the relative stability of the national currency, the dinar. Unemployment stands at a staggering 40 percent.

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