Nikolic elected new Serbian president, backs EU path
BELGRADE THE election of nationalist Tomislav Nikolic as president will not throw Serbia off its pro-EU course regardless of who comes out on top after potentially long coalition talks, analysts said on Monday.
Confounding the opinion polls, Nikolic defeated incumbent president Boris Tadic with 49.55 percent of the vote to 47.3 percent in Sunday’s run-off, based on preliminary results with over 99 percent of ballots counted.
Nikolic, 60, a former anti- Western ultra-nationalist turned pro-European Union populist, vowed to keep Belgrade on its path to Brussels.
“Serbia will not turn away from the European path,” said the leader of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), now the country’s biggest after the May 6 parliamentary and first-round presidential elections.
Despite his pro-EU stance, Nikolic has warned that he does not want Serbia to join the 27-member bloc at any cost, saying the breakaway province of Kosovo was a make-or-break issue.
Analysts on Monday dismissed fears that with Nikolic at the helm Serbia could fall back into the nationalist policies that caused its political and economic isolation in the 1990s during the era of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
“Nikolic has understood that the only way to win the elections is to change his attitude towards EU” and in terms of EU integration “we should not expect anything worrying,” sociologist Jovo Bakic said.
Political analyst Djordje Vukovic of independent election monitor CESID said Nikolic would certainly “try to find a common political language with the main EU countries” like Germany, France and Italy while also trying to keep good relations with Moscow.
In a reaction on Monday, EU leaders said Serbian voters had given “a clear signal” of support for its bid to join the bloc.
Serbia’s leadership “has now received a strong mandate to ... move quickly to the next step of its European integration: the start of accession negotiations,” said the respective presidents of the European Union and European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso.
Serbia won EU candidacy status in March but Brussels has yet to give a date for the opening of membership talks, making clear it first wants to see more improvement in Belgrade’s relations with Kosovo.
In Belgrade political parties geared up on Monday for possibly protracted talks on the formation of a new government.
Although the president has a largely ceremonial role, Nikolic’s surprise win could break up a previously agreed coalition made up of Tadic’s Democratic Party (DS) and the third largest force in parliament, the Socialists.
Socialist leader Ivica Dacic has the role of kingmaker as no party can realistically secure a majority without his support, but he has pledged to keep to his deal with the DS.
“For us, a win in the presidential election was not a condition for our coalition with the DS,” he told the Press newspaper.
However, the leader of the party founded by Milosevic also made it clear that Nikolic’s victory significantly changed the dynamics of any coalition deal.
Many analysts have raised the possibility of so-called “cohabitation” with Nikolic, whose party came first with 24 percent of the vote, as president alongside a DS-led ruling coalition.
Nikolic himself hinted the Socialists could switch alliances in a repeat of the post-2008 election scenario when they first tried to form a coalition with the nationalists and then brokered a surprise reconciliation with their former arch foes in the DS.
“We’ll see (with the Socialists)... maybe tomorrow something different will happen,” he said on Sunday.