The socialists have emerged on top in parliamentary polls in Serbia. The candidates for president face a run-off later this month. No matter who wins, DW's Verica Spasovska says, Serbia is on its way to the EU.
Serbia is feeling the pinch of the economic crisis like never before: Unemployment has reached an historic high, most companies are in no position to pay wages in due time and corruption is rife.
But voters in Sunday's parliamentary elections more or less handed the present coalition government a vote of confidence. There is a good chance the pro-European Democratic Party (DS) of incumbent President Boris Tadic will be able to renew their coalition with the socialists (SPS). The socialists, founded by late Slobodan Milosevic, have done surprisingly well, putting the SPS in a position to comfortably and confidently enter into coalition talks. The party's showing has significantly strengthened party leader and Interior Minister Ivica Dacic's position as a political opponent to President Tadic.
The actual election victors by a hair's breadth, the conservative Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), led by Tomislav Nikolic, are highly unlikely to take over power: they lack a suitable coalition partner.
In view of the desolate economic situation, Serbia's voters have opted for what is familiar and established - and the lesser evil. Only the fact that the Tadic party suffered losses amounting to about 30 percent compared with the last parliamentary election showed how disappointed Serbians are with the coalition's work and the resulting economic woes.
Renewing the current coalition government would mean continuity and predictability for the region. Strengthened by its new EU candidate status, the government can give the highest priority to continuing along on its pro-European course. Observers also expect the continuation of the dialogue and normalisation of relations with Kosovo, which Serbia refuses to recognize as an independent state.
The EU will also expect Serbia to dismantle parallel structures in northern Kosovo and in general reduce its influence in the region.
Apart from foreign policies, the government will have to focus on the domestic sector and tackle reforms to met demands for EU accession: reform the legal system, privatise state-held companies and fight corruption and organised crime much more clearly than before.
On Sunday, voters also went to the polls in presidential elections. Serbia's president has a largely ceremonial role, but during his presidency, Boris Tadic has greatly enhanced the status of the office. In contrast to wan Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, Tadic was omnipresent - possibly because he wasn't just the country's president but also the leader of the strongest government party.
A run-off vote is scheduled in two weeks between incumbent Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic. Although Tadic has a slight edge on his challenger and is likely to be supported by the socialists, his victory is by no means a foregone conclusion.
But even if Nikolic wins the presidency, it won't change the fate of the nation. The right-wing SNS is still marked by its somber past. After splitting from the Radical Party of alleged war criminal Vojislav Seselj, the SNS never really came to terms with its support for paramilitary groups during the Balkan war. The split was of a purely tactical nature because Nikolic didn't stand a chance at leadership in Belgrade as long as Seselj stands trial in The Hague.
No matter who is the next president of Serbia, the country is en route to EU membership. All main parties share that goal and Nikolic has also vowed to press on with the bid to join the 27-nation union.
Serbia's voters have sent an unequivocal message: continue on the path to the European Union - even if that journey takes tiime.
Author: Verica Spasovska/ db
Editor: Joanna Impey