Serbia’s new nationalist president backs EU path

Serbia’s new nationalist president backs EU path

Serbia’s new nationalist president backs EU path

Supporters of Serbian Progressive Party leader Tomislav Nikolic with his pictures celebrate after presidential elections in downtown Belgrade. AP photo

Nationalist candidate Tomislav Nikolic won the Serbian presidency on May 20, a result that adds to the country’s political turmoil and could decelerate its attempts to join the European Union, even though the president-elect says his anti-EU stance has changed.

Nikolic upset the odds to defeat pro-EU incumbent Boris Tadic but vowed to pursue his predecessor’s drive for the Balkan nation to join the EU. A one-time ally of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Nikolic led with 50.21 percent over 46.77 for Tadic, according to preliminary results from Serbia’s electoral commission, RIK, that were based on 40.67 percent of the votes counted. The results were expected to be officially confirmed later yesterday.

Nikolic has said in the past that he would abandon the EU plan if it entails Serbia abandoning its claim to Kosovo, but the victor later said he had shifted from being staunchly anti-Western to pro-EU.

First talks with Merkel

“Serbia will not stray from its European path,” Nikolic told reporters, saying he would first seek talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Serbia’s “main ally in the EU.”

Thousands of Nikolic supporters gathered in central Belgrade and other Serbian towns late May 20, honking their horns in celebration. Tadic quickly conceded defeat, congratulating Nikolic on “a fair and well-earned victory.” Tadic, 54, who brought the once international pariah state to the EU’s doorstep, warned it would be a “tragic mistake” if Serbia abandoned its EU course. Tadic built his presidential bid around pro-Western policies, but his biggest problem was the economic downturn and corruption within the ruling elite.

Nikolic must name a prime minister, but that task has been complicated because of the outcome of the May 6 parliamentary election. Although Nikolic’s Progressive Party won the most seats, Tadic’s Democrats have tentatively agreed to an alliance with Socialists that would give them a majority.

Nikolic has claimed the May 6 vote was marred by fraud.

“We’ll see what will happen,” Nikolic said. With the EU weighing up whether to open accession talks next year, the next government will come under pressure to reform the judiciary, become serious about rooting out the crime and corruption.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.