Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbs Try Again With 2nd Poll

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Voters were choosing Sunday between a moderate nationalist and two extreme right-wing candidates to become Serbia's new president, amid fears the ballot may fail because of too low a turnout.

The presidential election is a repeat vote. The previous polling, an October runoff, failed because less than the required 50 percent of the 6.5 million voters cast ballots. Another failure would likely deepen the country's political and economic crisis.

The main contender is Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate nationalist with pro-democratic views who advocates cautious reforms.

Serbia's presidency is expected to gain in importance as the post of Yugoslav president will be dismantled once the federation is transformed into a loose union of Serbia and Montenegro by early next year.

It is unclear what will happen if Sunday's vote is again inconclusive.

Kostunica's main political rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, would like to see the law changed to have the president elected by Serbia's parliament. That would give Djindjic a chance to nominate a candidate of his choice who would then be voted into office because Djindjic's allies hold a majority in the legislature.

Kostunica faces two extremists: Vojislav Seselj of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party; and Borislav Pelevic, of the Serbian Unity Party, founded by late Serb warlord Arkan. Both Seselj's followers and Arkan's paramilitaries fought in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s.

In 2000, Kostunica led the popular movement that toppled Slobodan Milosevic, the autocratic Yugoslav ex-president now on trial for war crimes before the UN tribunal at The Hague.

After voting, Konstunica accused Djindjic of seeking to sink the elections to deepen Serbia's instability. He urged the people "to express their dissatisfaction" with the government by voting Sunday.

"If, God forbid, these elections fail ... it would only hasten early parliamentary elections," he said in a veiled threat that he would try to topple Djindjic if Sunday's vote fails.

Seselj warned outright he would oust Djindjic if elected, and "bring fear and panic" to his government.

Although Kostunica won the most votes in the previous round and pre-election surveys had him comfortably leading Sunday's race, analysts predicted many voters will stay at home.

"For many, the choice comes down to voting for extremists or voting out of fear an extremist could win," said Dragomir Pantic of the Center for Political Studies. "That doesn't do much for motivation."

Slow reforms, scandals and perpetual power struggles have also disillusioned Serbs, more concerned with their dire living standards and rampant unemployment.

Though the national currency, the dinar, has remained stable, buying power has eroded as prices climb and the $150 average monthly wage fails to keep pace. The cost of feeding a family of four has risen from $150 to $400 per month in the past two years, according to government figures.

"What is there to vote for when nothing will change after Sunday?" asked Radmila Micic, an unemployed economist and mother of two. "I'd better stay home Sunday and see to lunch."

The 8,600 polling stations were to close by 8 p.m., with initial results expected later in the night. About 250 of the stations are located in Serb-populated parts of Kosovo, the southern Yugoslav province run by NATO, and a UN mission where ethnic Albanians are in majority.

The vote, two years after Milosevic's ouster, aims to pick a successor to incumbent Milan Milutinovic, whose term ends in January.

Milutinovic was indicted along with Milosevic for war crimes in Kosovo and will likely face extradition once his mandate expires. From his Netherlands prison cell, Milosevic has urged Serbs to vote for Seselj. More then 100 international observers were monitoring Sunday's vote.