Serb PM may back rival as nationalist revival looms

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The Independent Online

The Serbian government led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica was under pressure yesterday to back his reformist rival, Boris Tadic, against a hardline nationalist in the final round of presidential elections.

The Serbian government led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica was under pressure yesterday to back his reformist rival, Boris Tadic, against a hardline nationalist in the final round of presidential elections.

The poll is seen as crucial to Serbia's relations with the rest of Europe. But yesterday the government appeared to be on the verge of collapse after its candidate was heavily defeated in the first round of the presidential election. "There should either be a government reshuffle or we should have early parliamentary elections," the Deputy Prime Minister, Miroljub Labus, said after the government's candidate came fourth in Sunday's elections, with less than 14 per cent of the votes.

The candidate, Dragan Marsicanin, who finished five percentage points behind a political novice, conceded that his defeat was of "no help" to the government. A run-off election on 27 June will see the ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic competing against Mr Tadic, from the pro-reform Democratic Party. They obtained 30.4 and 27.6 per cent of the votes respectively.

Mr Labus's liberal G17 party has already said it will back Mr Tadic and urged Mr Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to do the same to keep the hardline Mr Nikolic out.

"We cannot participate in something that would push Serbia back into the 1990s," the Finance Minister, Mladjan Dinkic, said as his G17 party pledged its support to Mr Tadic. "A successful government needs backing of the international financial institutions who would desert us in case of Nikolic's victory."

Neither Mr Kostunica nor his advisers would say whether they would appeal to their supporters to vote for Mr Tadic.

Mr Kostunica's government only came to power with the votes of MPs from the Socialist party of the former leader Slobodan Milosevic, which caused widespread unease among his coalition partners. In the 100 days since his election, Mr Kostunica has been blamed for quietly absolving Mr Milosevic's regime of all wrongdoings in the 1990s, when Serbia saw international isolation and Nato bombings. Helping to gloss over the past were the Radicals, led by Mr Nikolic's superior, Vojislav Seselj, who is also facing a trial at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, along with Mr Milosevic.

In a reference to the day when Mr Milosevic was ousted from power, Vladimir Goati, a political analyst, said: "Mr Kostunica's government was punished by voters because of its insistence that 5 October 2000 was just an ordinary date"

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