Nationalist candidate Tomislav Nikolic has won the Serbian presidency, which could hamper his country’s bid to join the European Union. His supporters took to the streets of Belgrade and the Serb-controlled north of Kosovo to celebrate his win.
The Center for Free Elections and Democracy, an independent polling group, said the leader of the Serbian Progressive Party won 49.4 per cent of the vote, while pro-European Union incumbent Boris Tadic received 47.4 per cent in Sunday elections.
The results are expected to be officially confirmed later on Monday.
Meanwhile, in the Serbian capital Belgrade on Sunday night, Nikolic supporters waved Serbian flags and chanted slogans against Tadic.
“Serbia will not stray from its European road,” Nikolic insisted Sunday. “This day is a crossroad for Serbia.”
Tadic conceded defeat, saying, “I wish Nikolic the best of luck.”
Tadic, who championed Serbia's bid to become an EU member, had been leading the pre-runoff polls, but Nikolic's nationalist supporters appeared to have more enthusiasm for casting their ballots.
When the official results are announced, Nikolic must name a prime minister, but that task is complicated because of the outcome of the May 6 parliamentary election. Although Nikolic's party won the most seats, Tadic's Democrats tentatively agreed on an alliance with Socialists that would give them a majority.
Nikolic and his Serbian Progressive Party accused Tadic and his supporters of rigging the ballot in the first round of the presidential poll, in which Tadic came first. The former president’s supporters reject the claim.
During the campaign, Nikolic largely focused on the economic woes of ordinary Serbians, chiding Tadic and his government for growing unemployment, plummeting living standards and corruption within the ruling elite. He said that Serbia must "get rid" of poverty and corruption.
The outcome also could hugely impact Serbia's plans to become an EU member, a major step for a country that was a pariah state under late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. Earlier Nikolic has said he would abandon the EU plan if it means that Serbia must give up the claim to Kosovo. However, during his presidential campaign he claimed to have shifted from being staunchly anti-Western to pro-EU. But that change is widely believed to have been a ploy to gain more votes.
Marko Gasic, a political expert on the Balkan region, believes Nikolic decided to embrace a pro-EU stance during the campaign as not doing so would have prevented him from getting elected.
“The problem for Serbian voters is that they’re surrounded by NATO countries, their media is owned by NATO countries, whether directly or indirectly, and all the strings have so far been pulled by the pro-NATO lobby,” Gasic told RT. “So any politician that wants to get anywhere in Serbia is certainly not going to be too anti-NATO. I think Nikolic has recognized that reality which has prevailed in Serbia for several years now and has adjusted his colors accordingly.”
The political expert also noted that the population was largely frustrated with the high levels of corruption and a grim economic situation under President Tadic.
“There are many evils in the system,” Gasic said. “Ex-president Tadic has presided over eight years of poverty, in which his oligarchy have drawn all the financial benefits and replaced communism with a kind of corruptionism, which has been very good for them and very bad for everybody else in the country.”
Gasic also noted that while the population was afraid of change, it was also fed up with poverty.
“Despite Tadic’s promises of an EU rose garden, even the EU garden looks very bare at the moment and Tadic’s offering looks even barer as a result,” he noted.
Tadic resigned in April 2012 to hold early presidential and parliamentary election in hopes of giving a boost to the Democratic Party, which he leads. That poll was topped by Nikolic’s Progressive Party, which managed to garner over 24 per cent of the votes. The Democratic Party came in second with just over 22 per cent.
Tadic ran his campaign on a promise to continue his liberal, pro-EU policies. His eitgh-year presidency was marked by greater ties with Western Europe and a largely conciliatory stance towards Kosovo, though he and his government censured its declaration of independence in 2008.
His government also actively cooperated with the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia, furnishing The Hague with indicted war criminals, such as Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.