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28 Dec 03,, 04:00
Serbia ruling party in close vote

http://i.cnn.net/cnn/2003/WORLD/europe/12/27/serbia.election.reut/story.serbia.ap.jpg
A woman passes election posters in Belgrade ahead of Sunday's vote.

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (Reuters) -- A pro-Western Serbian leader acknowledged on Saturday his ruling Democratic Party (DS) had lost some of its support because of recent "scandals," and suggested it may go into opposition after weekend elections.

Serbia and Montenegro Defence Minister Boris Tadic, who heads the DS candidate list in Sunday's poll, said some voters had lost faith in the party because of allegations of corruption and other wrongdoings levelled at the coalition it led.

"We have lost part of our votes because of the scandals that appeared over the summer which were linked to the government," Tadic told Reuters in an interview on the eve of a general election expected to see a swing to the nationalist right.

The centre-left DS has yet to officially name a new leader to succeed late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was shot dead in March. Tadic is one of four deputy presidents, including outgoing Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic.

Opinion polls suggest it will come fourth in the vote, defeated by resurgent ultra-nationalists campaigning on widespread discontent with three years of Western-style change as well as by two other pro-reform parties now in opposition.

Analysts say the pro-democracy parties which united against Milosevic in 2000 but later split acrimoniously will still be able to prevent the hardliners from grabbing power, as they are expected to win a majority between them.

But they warn it will be hard to form a stable coalition pushing ahead with stalled reform in the impoverished state.

"For us all options are open -- to enter a government, to be in opposition or to support a minority government," Tadic said.

Minority government?

Tadic, the son of a prominent communist-era dissident, said the DS would not enter a government made up of three parties.

He said it may instead provide parliamentary support for a minority coalition formed by the conservative Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of ex-Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the liberal G17 Plus, in order to shut out the hardliners.

Tadic said during the campaign his party had carried the heaviest burden and made the biggest sacrifices in the democratic "revolution" which ended Serbia's isolation, saying the government it led had been the country's best ever.

But he said the ruling reformers waited too long before clamping down on powerful crime gangs and said they should have brought the army under civilian control sooner.

The DS-led coalition saw its ratings rise after Djindjic's assassination, blamed on crime bosses linked to elite police, as it finally cracked down on the underworld in a massive dragnet.

But the government soon got bogged down in bitter feuding as rival reform politicians accused it of corruption and general incompetence. It was forced last month to call polls a year early after a junior partner defected.

Over the last six months, two government aides have resigned over money laundering accusations and a minister was forced to step down because of alleged conflict of interest.

Tadic, seen as being personally untainted by the allegations, recently admitted irregularities in parliament's election of a central bank chief in July. A DS deputy whose vote tipped the balance was in fact on holiday in Turkey at the time.

http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/europe/12/27/serbia.election.reut/index.html