Tadic Calls for Closer Monitoring in Serbian Runoff Vote

Serbia’s ruling Democratic Party asked local and foreign watchdogs to step up scrutiny of the presidential runoff vote after the opposition claimed election fraud during May 6 balloting.

The party, led by incumbent President Boris Tadic, urged the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy to deploy more observers during the May 20 second round between Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the opposition Serbian Progressive Party.

“It is in our deep interest that we have fair and regular elections and that the legitimacy of elected institutions is not in question,” the Democrats said in the e-mailed statement.

The outcome of the presidential elections may determine whether Serbia keeps striving for European Union membership under Tadic or turns east for political and economic ties under Nikolic’s leadership. Tadic won the first round, while his party finished second in a concurrent parliamentary race, giving it six seats less than the Progressive Party’s 73 in the 250-member assembly.

The Progressive Party claimed vote rigging on May 10, a day after the second-place Democrats and the third-ranking Socialist Party of former strongman Slobodan Milosevic agreed to stay in a coalition, leaving Nikolic’s party in opposition.

Probe, Protests

The allegations led to a police probe and scattered street protests. The prosecutor’s office said more than 2,000 ballots that Nikolic presented last week as alleged proof of tampering were missing from a polling station in Pancevo, east of Belgrade, after being counted, Tanjug news service reported. Whoever stole the ballots faces as many as three years in prison, the report quoted spokesman Tomo Zoric as saying.

The Progressives are “ready to physically defend every vote” and I will “fight at polling stations” against any attempt at rigging, Nikolic told reporters in Belgrade today.

The Democrats accused him of plotting to use violence that may plunge the country “into chaos.”

The OSCE and partner organizations such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had a total of 70 observers in Serbia on May 6.

The Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy, or CeSid, had more than 1,000 locally recruited monitors and its program director Marko Blagojevic said in a phone interview they didn’t have enough resources to expand their presence for the May 20 ballot.

With assistance from Gordana Filipovic in Belgrade.

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