Serbia holds presidential vote

Associated Press Modified: May 20, 2012 at 11:00 am •  Published: May 20, 2012

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbians voted Sunday in a presidential election runoff that pits pro-European Union Boris Tadic against nationalist Tomislav Nikolic who wants closer ties with Russia and is threatening protests if he loses, claiming vote rigging in the first round.

The outcome of the vote is key for Serbia's plans to become an EU member, after the isolation it suffered as a pariah state under late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. It also will determine whether Serbia continues to reconcile with its neighbors and wartime foes, including the former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

Incumbent Tadic, who is seeking a third term, was slightly ahead of Nikolic in the first round of voting on May 6, while Nikolic's populist Serbian Progressive Party won the most votes for parliament, but is likely to stay without power because Tadic's Democrats have agreed to form the next government with the third-placed Socialists.

The nationalists have accused the Democrats of rigging the general vote, including the first-round presidential ballot — a charge that was rejected by authorities, but is fueling fears of possible post-election violence.

"Serbia does not deserve a president who is suspected of stealing a vote," Nikolic, a former ultranationalist ally of war-time leader Milosevic, said after voting. "I did everything fairly and honestly, while saying Serbia needs a change to move forward."

Tadic, who championed Serbia's bid to become an EU member, was leading the pre-runoff polls, but the pro-democratic voters are known to be less enthusiastic than the nationalists when it comes to casting their ballots. Election observers said turnout was about 10 percent lower than in 2008 when Tadic beat Nikolic by a slight margin.