Pro-EU vs. nationalist camps in Serbia vote
"People are struggling to survive," says Aleksandar Ristic, a 30-year-old with a small business in the capital of Belgrade. "People are fed up with them all."
Nikolic, who has narrowly lost two earlier presidential votes against Tadic, claims to have shifted from being staunchly anti-Western to pro-EU, and says that he wants Serbia both "in the West and the East."
But hardly anyone in the pro-democratic camp believes that the former far-right politician, who only a few years ago said that he would rather see Serbia become a Russian province than an EU member, has so dramatically shifted his stance.
"We want the EU, it has jobs and investment for us," Nikolic said during his campaign. "But if they say: You can join the EU but Kosovo isn't yours — then thank you and good bye, we have our own road."
All recent polls have suggested that the pro-EU and nationalist camps are virtually neck-and-neck, with Tadic and his democrats slightly trailing, but with bigger negotiating potential to attract smaller parties to form a coalition government.
Tadic has had the support of the Socialists, the party founded by Milosevic, but which has switched to a pro-EU stance.
Polls indicate Nikolic would not be able to come to power without the help of a small conservative party led by former president and prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, which is staunchly anti-EU and seeks close ties with Russia instead.
Though the outgoing Serbian government was pro-Western, Serbia is traditionally an ally of Russia, which supported its opposition to the independence of Kosovo that is considered the cradle of Serbian statehood and religion.
Several other parties and presidential candidates will take part in the elections, but they are considered long shots.
Tadic has urged voters to allow him and his democrats to "finish the job" of restructuring Serbia's economy along EU standards, and continue reconciling with its wartime foes, Bosnia and Croatia.
Tadic has also overseen a more conciliatory stance toward Kosovo than Nikolic, who was in Milosevic's government during a violent crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999. Most EU countries and the United States have recognized Kosovo's independence, but not Serbia or Russia.
"We must show that Serbia is a country that wants to join the EU and does not want to quarrel with its neighbors," Tadic said.
Associated Press correspondent Dusan Stojanovic contributed.
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