The European Union is set to breathe a sign of relief as the pro-Western alliance led by President Boris Tadic won Sunday's parliamentary elections, but the country's nationalists have warned that they too can hammer out a coalition government.
According to projected election results reported by an independent monitoring group, the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, Mr Tadic's Democratic Party and its allies gained 38.7 percent of the votes and secured 103 out of 250 seats in the country's parliament—not enough to form a coalition on his own.
The Serbian Radical Party of Tomislav Nikolic took 29.1 percent and 77 seats, while outgoing prime minister Vojislav Kostunica and his nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia won 11.3 percent and 30 seats.
The Socialists of the late Slobodan Milosevic with 7.9 percent of the votes and 20 seats in the parliament are set to play a decisive role, as parties need to have at least 126 MPs in order to put in place a stable government.
Of the some seven million Serbs eligible to vote, 60.7 percent participated in the poll.
"Serbs have undoubtedly confirmed a clear European path," Mr Tadic told crowds on Sunday (11 May). He has previously described the vote as "a form of referendum" on whether or not Serbia will be a member of the EU.
Yet he rejected any softening of Belgrade's stance on Kosovo—which unilaterally seceded from Serbia on 17 February—saying: "We have two strategic goals for Serbia—one is Serbia in the EU and the other is territorial integrity of Serbia. The new government is never going to recognise the independence of Kosovo."
Kosovo played a central role during the election campaign, with the nationalists linking the issue with Belgrade's EU prospects, while Mr Tadic keeping the two matters separate.
But the Radicals' leader Tomislav Nikolic warned Mr Tadic that his party could also form a coalition government. There were "very clear possibilities of a coalition, which does not include the Democratic Party," he said.
He added that Serbia would not have a government at all and would have to go to new elections, unless his Radical Party teams up with the nationalists of outgoing prime minister Kostunica and the Socialists.
"This election showed that for a majority of Serbs the top objective is a sovereign Serbia within its internationally recognised borders and only secondly European Union membership," Mr Nikolic was cited as saying by Reuters.
The EU's Slovene presidency "warmly" welcomed the victory of the pro-European forces, and expressed the hope that a new government will soon be formed with a clear European agenda.
"Provided that the necessary conditions are met ... this should enable Serbia to advance further on its EU path, including the candidate status," reads the presidency's written statement.
If no coalition is formed by mid-September, the country will hold new elections—although observers say this is unlikely be the case.
According to political analyst and former foreign minister Goran Svilanovic, "a convincing DS victory [of Mr Tadic] over the Radicals leaves the possibility for speeding up the negotiations over a new cabinet."
"Fast formation of a new cabinet would stabilise the state, since the investors are standing aside and monitoring what's happening," he said, AFP news agency reports.
Another analyst, Sonja Liht, described the outcome as a "huge blow" to the nationalist camp. "[Mr] Kostunica played on only one card, and he lost. Kosovo is important ... but after 10 years under Milosevic, people did not want to sacrifice the chance of a better life for empty promises," she told AFP.