Serbian Radical Party Riding High

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; 4:21 PM

BELGRADE, Serbia -- The party that won the most votes in Serbia's elections is staunchly anti-Western, once counted Saddam Hussein's Baath party among its political and financial backers and wants to go to war over the breakaway province of Kosovo.

Many Western analysts had feared the fiercely nationalist Serbian Radical Party, whose leader is currently on trial for alleged war crimes in The Hague, would be the biggest winner of this weekend's parliamentary vote.

But the party's performance was even stronger than expected, a demonstration, perhaps, of how much trouble Serbia seems to be having in moving beyond the legacy of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

Milosevic, accused of orchestrating a decade of ethnic violence that tore Yugoslavia apart and left a quarter-million dead, died last year in the midst of his trial in The Hague. The Radicals served as Milosevic's iron fist during his military campaigns in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

On Sunday, the Radicals won 28.7 percent of the vote to give them 81 seats _ almost a third of the total _ in Serbia's 250-seat parliament.

The Radicals can't form the next government on their own, but they may try to persuade Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to join them in a right-wing coalition _ perhaps by offering to let him serve as prime minister in the new government.

The pro-Western Democrats, who were second in the polls and won 64 seats, would also need the support of Kostunica and his third-place Populist Coalition to form a government. But they don't want him to keep the top job.

The Democrats are hoping to persuade Kostunica that joining their camp is the only way to prevent Serbia from retreating into international isolation.

Kostunica, a skilled political operator, appears to relish the role of king maker. Throughout the campaign he kept open the possibility of aligning himself with either the Democrats or the Radicals.

Tomislav Nikolic, the deputy Radical leader, predicted the Democrats will be unable to form a new government and forced to call new elections by the end of the year.

"And, after the new vote we'll be even stronger," Nikolic said, appealing to Radical supporters to "have patience because we'll soon be ruling Serbia."

The Radicals' election platform was drafted by their leader, Vojislav Seselj, who is awaiting a trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

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