A dictator caught in the headlights

Democracy is hard for totalitarians to stomach. Not even widespread rigging of the poll, and a boycott in Montenegro could save Slobodan Milosevic from the judgement of the voters. Like Pinochet after the 1998 referendum which ousted him, the tyrant seems caught uncomprehendingly in the headlights of a popular rejection. His attempts to insist on a re-run against Vojislav Kostunica have been met with ridicule abroad and, more significantly at home, as the Serbian church and his long-time ally Vojislav Seselj joined calls for him to walk.

Democracy is hard for totalitarians to stomach. Not even widespread rigging of the poll, and a boycott in Montenegro could save Slobodan Milosevic from the judgement of the voters. Like Pinochet after the 1998 referendum which ousted him, the tyrant seems caught uncomprehendingly in the headlights of a popular rejection. His attempts to insist on a re-run against Vojislav Kostunica have been met with ridicule abroad and, more significantly at home, as the Serbian church and his long-time ally Vojislav Seselj joined calls for him to walk.

He will, of course, ultimately be forced to bow to the will of the voters and step aside. It only remains to be seen how long and painful that process will be. Milosevic retains the loyalty of the top echelons of the state, both military and civilian, and it will take time before they realise that their strongman is weakened, and begin to haemorrhage away from him. But we can, with reasonable confidence, expect the tyrant to go - and soon. He will, no doubt, evade international justice by finding a bolthole in Russia, North Korea or Brazil. That is deeply regrettable, but it is less urgent than his departure from the presidency - now.

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