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Opposition romp home

Judging by preliminary and unofficial results, Milosevic and his clique have suffered an absolute and catastrophic defeat.

By Petar Lukovic in Belgrade

I feel a bit like a clairvoyant - trying to write on Monday what's going to happen on Tuesday.

But at least I have something more tangible to go on than visions in a crystal ball. One key fact underpins all post- election analysis in Serbia - the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, has won. And much more convincingly than expected. Their candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, has defeated Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the first round.

Despite the myriad ideological differences plaguing opposition politics in Serbia, the voters saw this election as straightforward referendum on Milosevic. A vote for Kostunica was a vote against the president.

Judging by preliminary and unofficial results, Milosevic and his clique have suffered an absolute and catastrophic defeat.

For hours on end, the news bulletins on state-controlled Radio Television Serbia have pedalled figures from the president's Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, headquarters - Milosevic leads with 44.41 per cent.

The SPS coalition partner the United Yugoslav Left claimed an even more unlikely 56 per cent tally for Milosevic.

But the reality is quite different. Ninety per cent of Belgraders voted against Slobodan and his wife Mira Markovic. Even in Pozarevac, Milosevic's birthplace, the opposition now holds the majority. In towns, big and small, across the republic the opposition has romped home victorious.

Nothing - nothing - will ever be the same again.

Were we in a normal country like Norway, everything would now be clear. Milosevic out, Kostunica in.

But Serbia is not like Norway. We therefore have to wait to see what the Milosevic regime chooses as its response. But what is left for this president, who has long boasted of his own tactical guile and strategic genius?

His strategy lies in tatters and his tactics clear for all to see. Milosevic is buying time, stalling the results. He may try to annul the election results through the courts, or he may declare the poll irregular due to infiltration of "foreign agent voters".

One cannot rule out the possibility he may despatch troops into Kosovo. After all he formed an army unit, albeit for propaganda purposes, with the express task of invading the province to protect the Kosovo Serbs.

And then there's Montenegro, divided, furious and ripe for plotting a distraction.

Another possibility, treated as a joke before the poll, now looks the most likely next move. Federal Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic has insisted that the Yugoslav president has the right under the constitution to remain in office until June 2001 when his mandate ends. Kostunica would just have to wait.

Simple solutions, like the winner assuming office, have not been applicable to Serbia for quite some time. Milosevic is a player who has never suffered a political defeat, and he is unable now to face the naked reality of these election results. His response to this catastrophe is very predictable.

The attitude of Serbian voters will now decide Milosevic's future. Will they once again accept the illusion and fraud of a Milosevic first round victory, or will they rise up and defend what they truly voted for?

The situation is as clear as day. It's 'Us or Them'. And it's a choice which can only be settled on the streets.

Petar Lukovic is a leading columnist and editor in Belgrade. Godine raspada, a collection of his war-year journalism, has recently been published by Feral Tribune, in Croatia.

© Institute of War &Peace Reporting

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