- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia Neither of the two candidates who faced off in an election held this past Sunday will become Serbian president just yet, but political observers are still sorting out the real winners and losers.
Fewer than 50 percent of the voters turned out to vote for either Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica or Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, the two candidates who made it to the second round. New elections will have to be held, probably in the coming months.
Just two years ago, Serbs took to the streets in massive numbers to oust Slobodan Milosevic. Now they lack enthusiasm for any candidate.
"It's one thing to talk about politics and another thing to go out and vote, and by not going out to vote, that's one way of expressing your political opinion," said Marko Blagojevic, a spokesman for the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, a local group that monitored the vote.
One of Sunday's clear losers is Mr. Labus, an economist who developed the country's economic reforms and is favored by more young and urban voters.
Mr. Kostunica outpolled him by a 2-to-1 margin, and so far, Mr. Labus has refused to answer whether he will run again in the repeated election.
If he doesn't, there is no other obvious option from the reformist wing of DOS, the broad coalition that defeated Mr. Milosevic two years ago.
That would give a huge boost to Vojislav Seselj, an ultranationalist former paramilitary leader who took third place, not far behind Mr. Labus, in the first round.
His call for a boycott was the main reason for the poor turnout, and without Mr. Labus in a repeated election his chances of standing in the next runoff are greatly increased.
Many also see Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic as a winner. He and Mr. Kostunica are the leaders of the two major democratic factions in Serbia, and Mr. Djindjic only stands to gain from the uncertainty over Mr. Kostunica's future role.
Mr. Kostunica will be out of a job as president of Yugoslavia in a matter of months, when Yugoslavia becomes a new state called Serbia and Montenegro.
In addition, Mr. Labus' political career appears to have taken a fatal blow, thus removing one of Mr. Djindjic's top contenders for leader of the reformist wing of the governing coalition.
Mr. Labus, who is also head of the respected think tank G17 Plus, is well liked in Serbia, in contrast with Mr. Djindjic, who is politically powerful but unpopular.
Many speculated that Mr. Djindjic, seeing this chance to profit, conducted a "silent boycott" of the election in hopes it would fail. Two television stations at which he has influence didn't air a debate between Mr. Kostunica and Mr. Labus last week, and one of them instead gave airtime to Mr. Seselj, who said people should not vote.
But Mr. Blagojevic, the analyst, said for ordinary Serbs there was no winner Sunday. "I do not see this as a victory for anyone," he said.
"I tend to see elections as something that the citizens profit from, and the citizens only suffered today because of the low turnout and because of the fact that the elections will have to be repeated, and the citizens themselves will have to pay for the repeated elections."


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