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Serb national 'reaches run-off'

A pro-European Union and a nationalist candidate are headed for a presidential run-off in Serbia, while the ruling pro-Western party is likely to form the next coalition government, independent pollsters said.

The Centre for Free Elections and Democracy said its initial count showed President Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party taking 26.7% of the votes, while populist Serbian Progressive Party leader Tomislav Nikolic has 25.5%.

The pollsters said the results are similar in the parallel parliamentary vote, meaning the Democrats are likely to form the next Cabinet with the Socialists, who came in third - just like they did after the last vote four years ago. The "Democratic Party will be at the core of the future government", party official Dragan Sutanovac said.

The general elections represented a sharp choice between the democrats or nationalists, who were poised to come back to power for the first time since their former Balkan strongman ally Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in 2000.

The election for president, Parliament and local authorities were crucial for the pace of Serbia's EU-demanded economic and social reforms, after facing international isolation as a pariah state under Mr Milosevic in the 1990s for his warmongering policies.

The ballots were also important for Serbia's continued reconciliation with its neighbours and wartime foes, including the former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

The two leading election contenders were Mr Tadic, and Milosevic's former ally, Mr Nikolic, who hoped to capitalise on the EU's economic troubles, which have dimmed the bloc's allure for many Serbs. The vote came amid the country's deep economic crisis - including a 24% unemployment rate - and huge public discontent with plummeting living standards.

Mr Nikolic, a sombre former cemetery manager, said he was certain of a victory.

"It's not the first time. But this time it's definite," Mr Nikolic, 60, said after voting. "Serbia is anxiously awaiting changes, the changes that are necessary. It cannot go on like this any longer. I think that either tonight, or in two weeks, we can openly discuss how to move Serbia forward."

Mr Tadic said if he and his Democrats win, they will quickly form a new government. "I expect that Serbia will continue on its reform path," Mr Tadic, a charismatic 54-year-old former psychology professor, said after casting his ballot. "Better life, better living standards for ordinary people is our strategic goal."


From Belfast Telegraph