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After the poll: Milosevic's options

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Independent observers are predicting election defeat for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, but there remains uncertainty as to whether he will meekly surrender his position and power.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) says opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica is clear leader to win Yugoslavia's presidential elections.

It says claims of victory coming from pro-Milosevic forces "are not credible" -- a view supported in a statement issued by the French presidency of the European Union.

 
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In Yugoslavia, however, the picture remains unclear with both supporters and opponents of Milosevic claiming to be ahead in the polls on Monday.

The EU statement said: "The final results of the election are not yet known. But, according to all available information, it is clear that any attempt by Milosevic to declare himself the victor would be fraudulent."

OSCE chairwoman Benita Ferrero-Waldner welcomed the 70 percent voter turnout in Serbia, which together with Montenegro forms the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

"The will of the people for change has been overwhelming. The large numbers of voters in Serbia who turned out is proof of that.

"They were anxious to express their views despite the intimidations, pressures and manipulations of all kinds carried out by the regime in Belgrade before and during the election."

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a multinational private think-tank committed to preventing international conflict, has outlined a number of routes Milosevic may take after the poll.

Conspicuously absent from the ICG lists is any suggestion the Yugoslav president would willingly step aside after losing a fair election.

An ICG spokeswoman said Milosevic's pre-election rhetoric effectively ruled out a peaceful transfer of power.

"Nobody really expects him to bow out quietly -- he has everything to lose," ICG spokeswoman Sascha Pichler told CNN.com.

"As a convicted war criminal there is no guarantee of his own safety. And all the comments he has made in the lead-up to the election about the opposition being lackeys of the West do not point to him fading quietly into the background."

Instead the opposition, she says, would probably have to live with more modest achievements.

"Kostunica has said there may be a second round of voting. Given that Milosevic is a dictator who has said he would not go for democracy, that in itself would be a victory," said Pichler.

The Yugoslav Prime Minister, Momir Bulatovic, confirmed the validity of the ICG's reservations last week when he announced that Milosevic would serve out his original four-year term regardless of the result of Sunday's presidential and parliamentary elections.

"Under the constitutional law, the mandate of the president cannot be shortened. It will last until its expiry, which will be until mid-2001," said Bulotovic.

In the event of the opposition taking a clear victory in the election but being deprived of office, the ICG raised the possibility of a popular uprising sweeping the country.

"On the one hand, a flagrant theft of a clear opposition victory, coming as it would after the heightened repression, the prospect of Serbia's continued isolation and people's arduous and depressing daily lives, could be the final straw that breaks the back of their fear and triggers an expression of outrage that will not be stilled," the ICG Balkans Report said.

While the ICG was undecided on the reaction of the opposition to a lost election, it was more emphatic about the measures to which Milosevic would resort to ensure he kept his reins on the presidency.

It says one possibility is that Milosevic would initially accept defeat, and then transfer all powers of the Yugoslav presidency to the Serbian presidency before he steps down.

This would effectively leave the opposition leader Kostunica to inherit an office without power.

Another scenario has Milosevic allowing Montenegro, the smaller of the two states making up Yugoslavia, to secede -- thereby destroying federal Yugoslavia and leaving Kostunica with no role.

The final scenario touted by ICG was labelled the "big steal" -- where Milosevic resorts to an array of fraudulent practices to ensure he won the election in the first round.

Accusations of vote-rigging have already been made -- both against Milosevic's supporters and by his supporters.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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