Julijana MojsilovicSerbian opposition to run united against Milosevic
Saturday, July 29, 2000
BELGRADE, July 29—Serbia's opposition said on Saturday it would unite to challenge Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic with a single candidate at the September election.
"Serbia's democratic opposition joined forces to protect the interests of citizens and change through elections the regime that has been working against the interests of Serbia and Montenegro," said a faxed statement after five-hour talks.
It did not say who the candidate would be.
Some of the 15 parties that met on Saturday had earlier been considering a boycott of the September 24 election, in which the rulers of Montenegro—Serbia's reluctant partner in the Yugoslav federation—have said they will not take part.
The decision to unite against Milosevic followed strong support from the West for the opposition to take part and an opinion poll suggesting that Belgrade's strongman could be beaten.
The statement from the parties said the opposition "holds that everyone has to be aware that any disunity at this moment takes us further from our aim."
Serbia's largest opposition party, Serbian Renewal Movement led by maverick politician Vuk Draskovic, is still threatening an election boycott due to what it calls a lack of free and fair conditions. The party did not join in Saturday's meeting.
Single Candidate Against Milosevic
The statement said the opposition leaders agreed to name their single candidate after a new round of talks with Montenegro's ruling parties due to be held in the coastal republic next Wednesday.
Milosevic's opponents believe support from Montenegro would make victory more likely.
Seen with the best chance of beating Milosevic is Vojislav Kostunica, the leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS).
An opinion poll published on Friday gave Kostunica 42 percent of the vote assuming the support of a united opposition -- well ahead of Milosevic's 28 percent support.
The opposition accuses Milosevic of introducing constitutional changes to secure his stay in power before setting the date for federal, parliamentary and municipal elections last Thursday. His current term was due to expire in mid-2001.
Amendments adopted by parliament on July 6 allow Milosevic to win a new period in office through a direct vote.
U.S. President Bill Clinton, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the European Union and NATO all said on Friday they would back Serbia's opposition in the bid to beat Milosevic.
They also reiterated their support for pro-Western Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. NATO Secretary-General George Robertson warned Milosevic to keep his hands off Montenegro.
Montenegro's officials and ethnic Albanian parties have said they would boycott any elections organised by Belgrade and accused Milosevic of creating a private state.
The republic has been at odds with Belgrade and even threatened to secede if Milosevic ignored demands for reforms and more equality within the federation.
But reformist authorities face bitter opposition from Milosevic's loyalists who on Saturday backed his bid for re-election.