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3 Feb, 2008 15:24

East or West? Decision day for Serbia

The Serbian polling stations have closed in what may prove to be the country's most important presidential election since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. Nationalist Tomislav Nikolic and incumbent Democrat Boris Tadic failed to win a majority in the first

Neck and Neck

Opinion polls are predicting the race to be the tightest in the country's history, with the country appearing to be split over its allegiance to the EU or Russia.

The incumbent President, Boris Tadic, has been active between the rounds. He appears relaxed and shows his trademark optimism.

“We will have a huge participation of our citizens at this election and at the same time I am totally sure that we are going to take the same direction towards the European Union,” Tadic says.

In contrast to his opponent's breezy optimism, Tomislav Nikolic offers a harsh assessment of a country that he believes has been let down by its rulers.

“Without me Serbia has no future. This is agony and decline. Not a single promise has been fulfilled in this country since 2000,” Nikolic says.

Tadic sees Serbia as part of Europe and Nikolic says the country is in between Europe and Russia.

The outcome will also decide how Serbia will react to the expected declaration of independence by its cherished Kosovo province.

Both candidates are united in saying that they will not let Kosovo become independent. Still, Nikolic has more radical view promising to break diplomatic relations with countries which will recognise Kosovo's independence. While Tadic, given his European agenda, is more moderate.

As for the domestic policy, Nikolic promises to support the interests of those who have been left behind since the democratic transition of Serbia, while Tadic is the candidate of business elite.

Tadic with his party has been in the ruling coalition with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. If Nikolic becomes President there may be a collapse of the government and the formation of a new coalition between Nikolic's Radical Party and Kostunica.

Expected turnout

About 8,500 polling stations were open in the country.

The turnout in the first round was unexpectedly high – more that 60 per cent, and analysts expect even more people to have come to polling stations in the second round.

Monitoring election

More than 3,000 observers are in place to monitor the second round of the election.

Russia has also sent a State Duma delegation. Members of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament arrived in Kosovo on Saturday.