Serb parties join forces to press for free elections

By Vesna Peric Zimonjic

12 January 2000

Opposition parties in Serbia have agreed for the first time in many years to join ranks to try to topple President Slobodan Milosevic.

A carefully worded document signed on Monday night by 16 opposition leaders called for elections by the end of April.

"We agreed to stage the first street protest in support of our demands in March," said Miladin Kovacevic, of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), the biggest single opposition party.

Opinion polls in Serbia have indicated that a united opposition would win the elections. But the more pertinent question is whether the parties in power – Mr Milosevic's Socialists, the JUL party, run by his wife, Mira, and the ultra-nationalist Radicals of Vojislav Seselj – wouldwillingly step down, faced with electoral defeat.

Opposition leaders admitted the six hours of talks on Monday were difficult, but were buoyed by a recognition that only a united front could succeed. Vuk Draskovic, leader of the SPO, said: "The survival of our country and our nation are at stake now. We have come to an honest joint strategy against the regime."

Some opposition leaders said that the experience of the Croatian opposition and its electoral victory last month had carried influence in Serbia. Rasim Ljajic of the Sandzak Muslim party said: "We'll see the re-run of the Croatian film here very soon."

Bratislav Grubacic, a Belgrade analyst, said: "There is no other chance for the Serbian opposition but to be united around the same goals and strategy. But the regime is clearly not willing to call early elections, and the country is entering a phase of great political uncertainty."

In the first official reaction to the statement, the Yugoslav Information Minister, Goran Matic, made clear that the government was not likely to accept the opposition's key demand. "They do not have the authority to demand elections," he said.

In a brief commentary carried yesterday by the state-run Politika and Express Politika dailies, the official Tanjug news agency said the opposition agreement was obviously achieved under pressure from the United States.

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