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Backing EU path, Serbian right wing vies for power

06-05-2012
10:03
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Serbia's right-wing opposition vied for power on Sunday in knife-edge elections marked by an unprecedented pro-European consensus more than a decade since the fall of nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic.    

Liberals who took power in 2000 face their strongest challenge yet from the opposition led by Tomislav Nikolic, once demonised by the West as Milosevic's spiritual heir but who says he now shares the goal of taking Serbia into the European Union.   

Nikolic, 60, and his populist Serbian Progressive Party are narrow favourites to win the presidential and parliamentary elections, capitalising on voter anger over the Balkan country's grinding transition from socialism to capitalism.    

"I've voted for Nikolic and his party. The Democrats had their chance and they failed miserably so now it's time for a change," said nurse Olga Nikolic, 59, one of the first Belgraders to cast her ballot after polls opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT).   

A sombre former cemetery manager, Nikolic may yet be denied the presidency in a second round on May 20, however, when unease over his past could drive undecided voters into the arms of  liberal incumbent Boris Tadic, 54.    

No party will win an outright majority in the parliamentary vote, and most analysts predict Tadic's Democratic Party will retain power with a rehashed version of the outgoing government.   

The Socialist Party of Milosevic, who died in 2006, is polling third and likely to emerge as kingmaker. Party leader Ivica Dacic has indicated he favours a fresh coalition with the Democratic Party, but might demand the post of prime minister.    

Under the constitution, the prime minister is more powerful than the president.    

But in a sign of how far the political landscape has shifted, analysts and diplomats say some Western capitals favour a "grand coalition" between the Tadic and Nikolic blocs, hoping that together they will quicken the pace of reform.    

Serbia since Milosevic has teetered between pro-Western liberals and unrepentant, pro-Russian nationalists. Nikolic says Serbia can be a bridge between East and West, but his conversion to the ultimate goal of EU membership marks a watershed.     

Reuters


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