* Opposition right, ruling liberals tied for power
* Socialists double vote, emerge as kingmakers
* Ex-Milosevic spokesman eyes PM post
* Liberals punished for economic stagnation
By Matt Robinson and Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE, May 7 The Socialist Party of late
strongman Slobodan Milosevic held the key to power in Serbia on
Monday after tied elections in which voters angry about the
country's economic woes roundly punished the ruling Democratic
The Democrats, part of a reformist bloc that turned Serbia
westwards with Milosevic's ouster in 2000, saw their support
crumble to 23 percent from 38 percent in 2008, hurt by an
economic downturn that has left a quarter of the Serbian
After years of teetering between pro-Western reformers and
pro-Russian nationalists, Sunday's elections for president and
parliament were marked by an unprecedented consensus between the
major political blocs on Serbia's bid to join the European
The right-wing Serbian Progressive Party, led by former
ultranationalists who say they now share the goal of EU
accession, claimed the narrowest of victories in the
more-important parliamentary vote with around 24.7 percent, but
was seen struggling for coalition allies.
The Democrats and the Progressives will fight it out for
control of the presidency, too, when Democrat incumbent Boris
Tadic and opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic go head-to-head in
a run-off on May 20.
The Socialists, led by Milosevic's former spokesman Ivica
Dacic, doubled their vote to some 16 percent and emerged as
They are widely tipped to revive Serbia's outgoing ruling
coalition with the Democratic Party, an unwieldy, reformist
alliance that has brought the country of 7.3 million people to
within a whisker of talks on joining the EU.
But Dacic, the interior minister in the former government,
will exact a high price.
"Whoever wants to talk to us ... will have to understand
that we have risen from the ashes," he told jubilant supporters
in the capital, Belgrade.
"Maybe Serbia doesn't know today who will be president, but
it knows who will be prime minister."
WAR AND ISOLATION
There were fireworks and trumpets on the terrace of the
party headquarters. Dacic has reformed the Socialists, but does
not apologise for Milosevic's role in fomenting war in Croatia,
Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, conflicts that killed over
100,000 people and drove his own country into poverty and
Analyst Zoran Stojilkovic said the Socialists had "huge
"They are closer to the Democrats and they will have huge
demands," he said. "The likeliest outcome is that the
pro-European coalition will continue."
Dacic favours EU membership for Serbia, but is hostile
towards the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the prospect
of Serbia seeking new funds from the lender. He has also pledged
to protect Serbia's state assets from privatisation.
Tadic and Nikolic were tied in Sunday's first-round vote for
president, according to preliminary official results, but
analysts expect undecided voters to turn to Tadic on May 20 out
of fear of Nikolic's hardline nationalist past.
Nikolic was formerly part of the ultranationalist Radical
Party, which shared power with Milosevic in 1999 when Serbia was
bombed by NATO to halt the massacre and expulsion of ethnic
Albanians in Kosovo.
After repeated election defeats, he broke away from the
party in 2008 and pledged support for Serbia's EU membership
Under the Democratic Party, Serbia closed a dark chapter
with the arrest and extradition of Bosnian Serb genocide
suspects Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, and in March became
an official candidate for EU membership.
The EU is weighing whether to open accession talks next
year. They could last until 2020.
But there is widespread anger at the outgoing government
over the country's economic woes, fueled by the crisis in the
euro zone, the Balkan region's main trading partner. The average
Serb takes home 380 euros a month.
Fellow ex-Yugoslav republic Croatia joins the EU next year,
driving home for many Serbs just how far they have fallen