CEOL
Belgraders predict Milosevic victory, despite poll

BELGRADE, Jul 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) Belgraders expressed skepticism on Friday that Slobodan Milosevic could lose presidential elections scheduled for September 24, despite poll results showing strong opposition to the Yugoslav leader.

Most of around a dozen Belgraders interviewed by Reuters said they believed the elections would be neither fair nor democratic, adding that Milosevic would win by a landslide mostly because of his grip on the media.

Poll results published on Friday suggested Milosevic could be defeated by Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia, if the usually bickering opposition united behind him.

"I think an opposition candidate stands no chance of winning because only the ruling parties have access to the media," said Aleksandar Rackovic, a 31-year-old salesman.

"In addition, the opposition don't have a worthy candidate capable of giving Milosevic a run for his money," he added.

Dragan, a 59-year-old pensioner, said he hoped for "the impossible to happen, an opposition victory that would lift the economic and political isolation of Serbia.

"However, that is a very unlikely outcome. I don't see how an opposition candidate can defeat Milosevic in the presidential elections."

He said the elections could be fair and democratic "if the international community exerts pressure on the authorities and at the same time offers Milosevic a way out in case he loses".

Milosevic was indicted by a UN court last year for war crimes allegedly committed by his forces in Kosovo.

DOUBTS OVER WHETHER OPPOSITION CAN UNITE

Others, however, said they believed Milosevic would win under any circumstances. In an apparent bid to secure Milosevic's grip on power for years to come, the Yugoslav leadership on Thursday set presidential, parliamentary and local elections for the same day in September.

"He wouldn't have called the elections if he wasn't assured of victory. He's got the propaganda on his side and he picked the perfect time to hold the ballot," said a 45-year-old security guard.

Ivana, a 26-year old secretary, said the elections would be "as fair and democratic as the past ones", adding that an opposition victory was next to impossible.

"The opposition could win the presidential elections only if Jesus Christ himself was their candidate," she said.

Journalist Danijel Sunter said Milosevic could be defeated if the entire opposition, including the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), joined forces and came up with one candidate, adding:

"That, however, is off the cards. It is hard to imagine that the SPO will change their mind and back another candidate."

Some said many disillusioned voters would stay well away from the polling stations.

"Milosevic will win by a landslide as the opposition voters are disappointed and reluctant to fight another battle lost in advance," said David Stefanovic, a 25-year-old teacher.



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