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The Radical and the Rest

BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro--As populist candidate Tomislav Nikolic continues to top all opinion polls just days ahead of the Serbian presidential election, the main question remains: Which reformist candidate will take second place and a chance to beat him in the expected second round?

That man is likely to be either the ruling coalition's candidate, Dragan Marsicanin, or the leader of the opposition Democratic Party (DS), Boris Tadic. Each commanded about 19 percent support from the public days before the 13 June election.

A fourth candidate was garnering more and more public attention after entering the race late, with one poll even putting him ahead of Marsicanin. Few expect wealthy businessman Bogoljub Karic to make it past the first round, however.

With the support of nearly a third of voters, according to opinion polls, Nikolic is seen as the clear winner of the first round, though highly unlikely to win the absolute majority needed to be elected president outright.

In the likely second round on 27 June, Nikolic's chances will stand or fall depending on how much unity the reformists can muster.

Fifteen candidates in all are competing in the presidential election, which although less important than last December's parliamentary vote, could still influence the shape, strength, and direction of the Serbian government only 100 days after its formation.

A Marsicanin victory promises to bring stability to the governing coalition and to smooth the path for its reforms, while a win for either Nikolic or Tadic is likely to sooner or later precipitate a crisis in the governing coalition, ultimately leading either to a government revamp to include the DS or to early parliamentary elections.

(TOL 11.vi.04)

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