Two years after Milosevic, many Serbs disenchanted as election

Saturday, October 5, 2002

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Toppling Slobodan Milosevic was easy, or so it seems now to Dusan Antonic, who took part in the revolt against the former president two years ago Friday.

But now Antonic and many other disenchanted Serbs face the difficult decision of who to vote for among those who would be Milosevic's successors in the coming Serbian presidential elections.

"The enemy was clear back then," Antonic said, reminiscing about the throngs of protesters who converged in the capital on Oct. 5, 2000. They took over the parliament, state-run television, police stations and other pillars of Milosevic's regime in a sweeping popular revolt.

The 18 pro-democracy leaders who seized power have broken into factions since then, and each blames the other for the feeble economy, soaring prices, budget deficits and a crime wave.

"Not that anyone believed it would be all milk and honey after ... but I don't think anybody expected it would be this difficult," said the 37-year-old engineer, struggling to make ends meet and keep his family of four fed and warm on a $310 monthly salary from a state-run enterprise.

Part of the troubles stem from a power struggle between two key leaders of the revolt: Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbia's Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Efforts to reform the country stalled because of squabbling between them over how much economic misery is necessary before the country can reform its economy and move closer to the rest of Europe. Uncertainty about constitutional changes envisioned to transform the country into a loose union of its two republics, Serbia and Montenegro, has slowed progress.

Couldn't avoid runoff

Amid the confusion, Serbia faces its first presidential elections since Milosevic's ouster.

The first round of voting Sunday ended indecisively. Kostunica, who is losing his job next year because of the constitutional changes, won the race, but didn't have enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Unlike the passions stoked by the race that led to Milosevic's ouster, the race between Kostunica and economist Miroljub Labus -- two candidates without stark differences -- failed to move Serbs.

Turnout was just 55 percent. The fight is on now to persuade people to vote in the run-off Oct. 13.

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