Serbia votes today for a successor to President Milosevic Ruling party's candidate is expected to win


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Serbia's voters will get to choose today among three main candidates for the presidency in a contest that has often seemed more like a bad soap opera than an instrument of political change.

One contender calls for a return of the monarchy, and his office is selling gold and silver coins with his own likeness. Another bused his supporters to Bosnia to throw bricks at U.S. soldiers. And a third, often flanked by long-legged beauty queens, boasts that he is the "shadow" of his patron, President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, who rules the country like a private firm.

The disintegration of the opposition coalition Zajedno, which led street protests against Milosevic last winter, has left most Serbs bitter or apathetic.

"Who really keeps Milosevic in power?" said Aleksa Djilas, a political analyst. "Certainly state television, the police and the party's control of the economy are all important tools, but the strongest force that einsures Milosevic's continued rule is the opposition. This is all their fault."

Vuk Draskovic, a monarchist who heads the Serbian Renewal Movement, and Belgrade Mayor Zoran Djindjic, who is the head of the Democratic Party, which is now boycotting the elections, have set their supporters against each other. Just a few months ago their backers held candles together in Belgrade.

The second main candidate, the former paramilitary leader Vojislav Seslj, is now mayor of Zemun, outside Belgrade.

A close ally of Milosevic, he has vowed to rip up the Dayton peace agreement, has refused to meet with international election monitors and trumpets his party's decision to send bus loads of followers to Bosnia to attack U.S. troops. If elected, he has promised that his ultra-nationalist party will be in power for "a hundred years."

There seems little doubt that the governing party's candidate, Zoran Lilic, will prevail over his two main rivals and some 14 obscure candidates on the list, although he may have to enter a second round, probably Oct. 5, against his top rival to get more than 50 percent of the vote as required by law.

Lilic, a colorless bureaucrat, was president of Yugoslavia, made up of Serbia and Montenegro, when Milosevic ran the country as president of Serbia. Milosevic, who under the Serbian constitution is not permitted to seek a third five-year term, had his rubber-stamp Parliament name him president of Yugoslavia in July.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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