Populist Tomislav Nikolic through to second round of Serbia's election

 

A pro-European Union candidate and a nationalist opponent are headed for a run-off in Serbia's presidential elections, while the ruling pro-Western party is likely to form the next coalition government, independent pollsters said.

The Centre for Free Elections and Democracy said its unofficial complete count showed the previous president, Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party, taking 26.7% of the votes, while populist Serbian Progressive Party leader Tomislav Nikolic has 25.5%.

The pollsters said the results are similar in the parallel parliamentary vote, meaning the Democrats are likely to form the next Cabinet with the Socialists - just like they did after the last vote four years ago - who came in third and are demanding the premiership.

Mr Tadic said that the presidential runoff will be crucial for the future of Serbia.

"The battle will be fought between myself and Nikolic," Mr Tadic said. "Our positions are totally diverse. I'm sure I'll win."

Mr Nikolic, a sombre former cemetery manager, predicted he will be victorious in the run-off.

"The victory is within reach," Mr Nikolic said. "We will have a new government and a new president."

The general elections represented a sharp choice between the Democrats or nationalists, who were trying to come back to power for the first time since their former Balkan strongman ally Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in 2000.

The election for president, Parliament and local authorities could affect the pace of Serbia's EU-demanded economic and social reforms.

The country faced international isolation under Milosevic in the 1990s for his warmongering policies.

The result also could affect Serbia's reconciliation with its neighbours and wartime foes, including the former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

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