- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

BELGRADE, Serbia — An extreme nationalist party allied with war-crimes suspect Slobodan Milosevic won Serbia’s parliamentary elections yesterday but failed to get the majority needed to govern, exit polls showed.

Mr. Milosevic and three other war-crimes suspects were candidates, but no immediate decision was likely on whether they would win seats.

The election’s outcome is crucial for the stability of Serbia and Montenegro and the entire Balkans, still recovering from four wars fomented by Mr. Milosevic and his loyalists in the 1990s.

The Serbian Radical Party won 27 percent, said the independent Center for Free Elections and Democracy, whose exit polls have been accurate in the past. The moderate nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia came in second with 17 percent, while the governing pro-Western Democratic Party was third with 13 percent.

The moderate nationalists have ruled out a coalition with the Serbian Radical Party. That would enable the pro-democratic parties that toppled Mr. Milosevic in 2000 and extradited him to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in 2001 to form a coalition government — if they put aside their bickering.

“The official [election] results may differ slightly, but the general trend will remain,” said Zoran Lucic of the Center for Free Elections.

Voters were choosing between ultranationalists and the pro-democracy parties that ousted Mr. Milosevic in 2000 but failed to fulfill expectations.

Turnout was about 60 percent, the highest since parliamentary elections that defeated Mr. Milosevic’s Socialists three years ago, when 70 percent voted.

Mr. Milosevic’s Socialists came in sixth and without enough support to boost the Radicals into dominance, the exit polls showed.

But the strength of the Radicals — who advocate expanding Serbia’s borders and once considered Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a key international ally — is likely to nudge Serbia into deeper social and economic chaos and destabilize the region.

The Radicals call for a “Greater Serbia” at the expense of the republic’s Balkan neighbors and have pledged to cut diplomatic ties with Serbia’s main wartime rival, Croatia.

They also vow not to extradite the U.N. war crimes tribunal’s most-wanted fugitives: former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic.

Both Mr. Milosevic and ultranationalist ally Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party were candidates, despite being held for trial by the U.N. war crimes detention unit in The Hague. Two other indicted war-crimes suspects from other parties were also on the ballot.

The Radical Party had benefited from scandals and infighting among the pro-democrats and the outgoing government’s failure to improve living standards.

With the nationalists’ failure to win enough to govern outright, the democratic groups could join in the government and sideline the Radicals, but only if they can reconcile their differences.

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