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Nikolic focuses on Europe

May 21, 2012

The unexpected victory of former Milosevic ally Tomisalv Nikolic has many wondering about the state of Serbian politics and how the country's domestic and foreign politics will be shaped in the future.

A photomontage of a Serbian and EU flag
Image: AP/Montage DW

The surprise win of Serbian opposition leader and formerly far-right nationalist Tomislav Nikolic to the presidency has analysts questioning what his election will mean for Serbian politics.

Nikolic has shifted his politics in recent years to embrace a pro-European stance, though some have expressed concerns over his formerly extremist leanings.

"Serbia will not turn away from the European path," the leader of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) said.

On Sunday, Nikolic defeated incumbent president Boris Tadic, a favorite of the west, defying both opinion polls and analyst predictions.

The Serbian presidency is limited in power, but Nikolic’s win may affect the composition of the future Serbian government, possibly putting the SNS as the lead party in any coalition, instead of Tadic's Democrats (DS).

The first round of presidential elections was held together with parliamentary and local polls on May 6. The new parliament must be constituted by June 9, and the new government has to be in place by September 5. The SNS won the most seats, but the Democrats had previously secured pledges from its former coalition partners that they will renew the partnership. These promises were made, however, before Tadic lost.

European candidacy

Serbia won EU candidacy status in March, but Brussels has yet to make a move on opening membership talks. Instead, the EU has made it clear that it wants to see improved relations between Belgrade and Kosovo beforehand.

Nikolic's tendency toward belligerent rhetoric could complicate the membership process. The fact that Nikolic was a part of Slobodan Milosevic’s government, which waged war on ethnic Albanian rebels from 1998 to 1999, may also be a hindrance.

Tomislav Nikolic, center, the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party leader and presidential candidate, smiles as he talks to members of the media after claiming victory at the presidential runoff elections in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, May 20, 2012
Nikolic's win came as a surpriseImage: AP

On Monday the EU issued a warning that further normalization with Kosovo, along with other reforms, are conditions for closer ties.

"Serbia will need to continuously demonstrate its adherence to the spirit of cooperation and reconciliation in the region" for the EU to open accession talks with it, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said jointly.

"It will be essential" to see further political reforms and "further progress in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina with a view to a visible and sustainable improvement of relations," they insisted.

People have other concerns

Nikolic has more to worry about than EU acceptance. Voters on Sunday indicated that the cost of living has replaced EU and Kosovo as key issues for them.

"Tadic paid the price of an extremely difficult economic and social situation, because very many citizens live in hardship, earning 20,000 or 25,000 dinars (175- 218 euros)," analyst Ognjen Pribicevic told TV B92.

Poor voter turnout also affected the election, failing to reach 50 percent.

Nikolic will take office in the coming weeks, but it may be September before a new coalition government is in place.

tm/ncy (dpa, AP, AFP)