Serbia faces instability after nationalist parties beat reformers in elections

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The Independent Online

Pro-democracy parties that toppled Slobodan Milosevic from power three years ago lost to nationalists yesterday in Serbian parliamentary elections.

The single strongest party is the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which obtained 27.7 per cent of votes, or 82 seats in the 250-member parliament, according to results released by the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy. But no party obtained the majority necessary to form a government.

Vojislav Seselj, the leader of SRS, who is awaiting trial before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, is a favourite of the unemployed and socially deprived after the government that took over from Mr Milosevic pushed through market economy reforms. Privatisation meant thousands of people, already impoverished by Mr Milosevic's devastating decade of rule, lost their jobs.

The Democratic Party of Serbia was ranked second last night. The moderate nationalist party of Vojislav Kostunica obtained 18 per cent of votes. It is followed by the Democratic Party with 12.6 per cent. This party is the biggest loser in the elections. It used to head the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition three years ago and Zoran Djindjic, its leader, masterminded the ousting of Mr Milosevic. The DOS fell apart earlier this year after the assassination of Mr Djindjic. His death marked a turning point for reforms in Serbia and played into the hands of nationalists. Mr Djindjic was unpopular among the part of the Serbian public that was shocked by his decision to extradite Mr Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal in 2001.

A group of economic experts, who formed a party called G-17, will enter the parliament for the first time, with 11.7 per cent of votes. The rest of seats will go to the Serbian Renewal Party of Vuk Draskovic (23 seats) and Mr Milosevic's Socialists (21 seats).

Analysts are now predicting a period of instability. No party is willing to enter a coalition with SRS but the pro-reform parties would not be able to form a coalition among themselves.