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Milosevic support wanes as election nears

The first round of presidential elections in Yugoslavia is over, but the question of who will lead the war-ravaged nation has yet to be answered. One thing, however, does appear certain: President Slobodan Milosevic has little chance of using the Yugoslav Army and the federal police to help him keep his job.

Yugoslavia's election commission reported Sept. 26 that Milosevic trailed rival Vojislav Kostunica in Sunday elections. Milosevic's backers are pushing for a runoff election no later than Oct. 8. It's been widely speculated for weeks that Milosevic, if facing certain defeat, would use force to stay in office and ignore the results of the election. But with his support among key army and police factions waning, Milosevic may be running out of time. His retaining office through force would require consent from at least two of three groups: officials in the ruling coalition, the Yugoslav Army and the federal police. At present, two of the three groups have lost confidence in Milosevic and he must rebuild it. Milosevic will need the two weeks leading up to the runoff to determine what his supporters think about the surprise defeat and what options he has left.

His problem is, not only has he become a liability to his allies, but he is slowly running out of them. Without support from the Yugoslav Army or the federal police, he cannot exercise the options of martial law or a coup d'etat against a Kostunica government. As the election fervor ends, the conduct of the federal police and the army remains professional. Federal police did little more than patrol during Kostunica's victory rallies and the Yugoslav Army has made no unscheduled maneuvers. Last week, army chief of staff Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic declared the military would recognize a Kostunica victory. The continued professionalism among the police and army may signal that Milosevic is simply unable to exercise the option for violence.

Also, Milosevic has lost control of his coalition partners over the past few months. Former Yugoslav president and Milosevic senior advisor Zoran Lilic resigned his post and left the party in August. Former president and Milosevic mentor Ivan Stambolic was abducted in late August and likely is dead. Vojislav Seselj and the Serbian Radical Party split from the ruling coalition by running their own candidate for president. Moreover, a recent International Crisis Group study reports that middle-ranking members in the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) are put off by increased control of government by the Yugoslav Left (JUL).

It even appears Milosevic's control over his coalition has slipped further in the past week following the first round of elections. SRS leader and former Milosevic ally Vojislav Seselj was the first to announce Kostunica's lead in the polls Sunday night. That announcement complicated efforts by the SRS to tout the president's lead in the election as the first poll results arrived before midnight. Seselj later vowed to resign from the SRS given poor turnout. By Tuesday morning, there was no consensus within the SPS on how to confront the election loss. Now the SPS is under siege, and Milosevic will have to look hard to find advocates to keep him in office and support martial law. His challenger in the elections, Kostunica, shares the same politics as Milosevic, and never lost a war in Kosovo. If senior SPS officials are skeptical of Milosevic's control over the ruling coalition, and the stability of the ruling coalition, they may find a more useful instrument in Kostunica.

The outstanding variable here is the federal police. Though the army has taken on a distance from Milosevic over the past week, the police and security forces have been traditional servants to Milosevic. Few signs over the past few weeks indicate whether or not this status has changed. If Milosevic fails to hold onto either his cadre or the Army, he may only retain the support of the police. At a time when Milosevic's support among allies is flagging, the president will be unable to build a case for martial law prior to the run-off on Oct. 8.

Source: Stratfor

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