Milosevic foes expect landslide victory in Serbia

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Voters in Yugoslavia's main republic were choosing a new parliament Saturday in an election expected to give the pro-democracy forces that toppled Slobodan Milosevic broad powers to sweep away the last vestiges of his regime.

Three surveys conducted last week predicted that new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's 18-party coalition would win an overwhelming majority of the 250 seats in Serbia's parliament. That would relegate Milosevic's once-dominant Socialists to the fringes.

Without a strong party, Milosevic would be vulnerable to prosecution for his actions during 13 years of rule that left what remains of Yugoslavia an impoverished pariah. Four former Yugoslav republics gained independence in the past decade, leaving only Serbia and tiny Montenegro, and Milosevic has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for atrocities during the ethnic wars that accompanied the breakup.

The election gives Kostunica a chance to complete the revolution set in motion when he defeated Milosevic in a vote for the federal presidency Sept. 24.

Milosevic refused to accept the results and called for a runoff. He was forced to concede before it could be held when thousands rioted in Belgrade on Oct. 5.

But even after Milosevic was ousted, his party still controlled the government of Serbia, which accounts for more than 90 percent of Yugoslavia's population of 10 million and virtually all its industrial potential.

The Serbian government also controls the main national media, the Serbian judiciary and the 60,000-strong Serbian police - all key levers of power. If Kostunica's followers gain a grip on parliament in the vote, they will have a free hand to remove Milosevic appointees from key posts.

In the wake of the October uprising, Milosevic's followers agreed to new Serbian parliamentary elections, with the selection of a prime minister and formation of a Cabinet to follow.

Recent surveys suggested that Kostunica's Democratic Opposition of Serbia could win up to 80 percent of the vote, with 15 percent going to Milosevic's party. The surveys claimed a 3 percent margin of error.

The only other party expected to win seats is the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, former Milosevic allies. Eight parties and coalitions are fielding candidates, but a party needs at least 5 percent of the vote to gain seats in the assembly.

With the polls so unfavorable, the Milosevic camp is hoping for a low overall turnout and encouraging its hard-line supporters to vote.

Rumors apparently aimed at discouraging people from voting have spread through the country and are widely attributed to the Socialists. One rumor claimed an invisible spray that will be applied to voters' fingers to prevent multiple voting is radioactive and causes impotence.

Milosevic also appeared to be hoping the troubled economy and a further drop in living standards would bring him back to power. Prices have skyrocketed since the change in leadership because the outgoing Serbian government removed price controls in one of its final acts.

Foreign and domestic observers, including 325 from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, were monitoring the elections. Milosevic's administration did not permit them to oversee the September vote.

Milosevic's Socialists have officially complained to the European monitors about Saturday's vote, alleging unfair election conditions, including media bias during the campaign.


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