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Milosevic Preparing for Last Stand

December 10, 2000

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Yugoslavia’s new democratic leadership is gearing up for an election that could determine whether Slobodan Milosevic has a chance at a political comeback or ends up in jail.

Despite losing the federal presidency in October, Milosevic remains leader of the Socialists, one of eight parties that begin campaigning this week for Dec. 23 parliamentary elections in Serbia, Yugoslavia’s main republic.

All opinion surveys predict that President Vojislav Kostunica’s coalition will win about 60 percent of the votes, guaranteeing democratic forces a solid majority in the 250-seat assembly.

The latest polls also show the Socialists winning about 10 percent of the vote, enough for Milosevic to claim a seat _ and with it parliamentary immunity.

Although such immunity can be lifted, a respectable showing by the Socialists would make it more difficult politically to prosecute Milosevic or extradite him to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague for his alleged role in atrocities in Kosovo and possibly in Bosnia and Croatia.

However, public pressure is mounting to bring Milosevic and his allies to justice _ not necessarily at The Hague, but before Yugoslav courts _ for ruining the country during his 13-year tenure.

Newspapers are full of speculation about possible charges against Milosevic. They range from allegedly building a house without a permit _ which carries a sentence of three months to five years in jail _ to stealing $4 billion, some of it from private savings accounts, to inciting ruinous wars.

``The new government will have to clean house _ and I mean properly,″ said office worker Radoslav Tasic, 38. ``There are simply too many people who are mad after all that has happened. There is much rage.″

That’s what makes the Serbian election so important.

Kostunica claimed the federal presidency Oct. 7 after riots by supporters who believed he beat Milosevic in a controversial election Sept. 24.

However, most real power lies in the governments of the two republics: Serbia and Montenegro. Kostunica’s followers must gain control of Serbia, home to more than 90 percent of Yugoslavia’s 10 million people, to begin dismantling the last vestiges of the Milosevic regime.

``We are in a vacuum,″ said Zoran Djindjic, expected to become Serbia’s prime minister. ``But after Dec. 23, everything will change.″

For many Serbs, change won’t come a moment too soon. Since October, the most significant change for many people has been a doubling of prices in a country where $50 a month is an average salary.

``People can’t be lied to forever,″ said postman Nesa Cvetkovic, 52. ``The new government will really have to show us it can measure up to their words. Otherwise, what was it all for?″

With all parties short of cash and worn out by the presidential race, campaigning is expected to be low-key. Milosevic’s Socialists plan a door-to-door campaign, promising they can reform the economy without widespread layoffs.

Kostunica’s alliance plans to tour Serbia starting Monday to explain what’s at stake. To capitalize on the president’s prestige, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia will run as a single party. The 18 parties in the DOS have agreed on a formula for distributing seats depending on how the alliance fares.

The coalition represents such a broad range of political opinion, however, that most analysts expect it to break apart after the election over issues and the division of spoils.

``It’s hard to imagine DOS staying together long,″ said analyst Bratislav Grubacic. ``There are lots of different views on how to deal with lots of political and economic issues.″

The split is likely to pit Kostunica’s conservative, Serbian Orthodox Church-oriented allies against followers of Djindjic, whose Democratic Party is the largest and best organized group in the coalition.

Djindjic is considered a pragmatic wheeler-dealer and architect of the election campaign against Milosevic. Kostunica, however, enjoys enormous public support.

Djindjic’s critics consider him an unprincipled opportunist. Kostunica’s detractors describe him as dogmatic and inflexible.

Kostunica also has been reluctant to purge Milosevic appointees from key posts in the army and police. Djindjic has urged a faster pace in personnel changes.

Neither has shown any enthusiasm for following International Monetary Fund guidelines for economic reforms that would lead to widespread layoffs and more short-term suffering.

Montenegro’s government, meanwhile, is threatening to declare independence. Ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo insist they will never accept a return to Serb rule.

``People must face the fact that there is no quick way out,″ said Nenad Canak, a pro-democracy leader in northern Serbia. ``The time of the big words and big fraud is not behind us. The future is going to be very tough.″

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