Revolution by ballot

Yugoslavia: Dictator Milosevic foiled by own idea to put himself up for re-election.

September 26, 2000

HOLDING A premature election for president of Yugoslavia was President Slobodan Milosevic's idea. He ought to abide by the result.

That goes against the grain. He never cared who liked his rule. Repudiation by the people means nothing to him.

This election was meant to shut the critics up. Its result was hardly in doubt. Mr. Milosevic harassed the opposition, muzzled the press and blocked observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). If he stole the election, who would know?

What he could not foresee was that most of the fractious and discredited opposition would rally behind an unsullied law professor, Vojislav Kostunica.

Then what he did wrong was allow genuine opinion polls to be taken. Imagine Serbs telling complete strangers for whom they would vote?

So with polls showing a Kostunica majority on the first ballot, the official counting stopped. Both sides proclaimed victory. The OSCE said that Mr. Milosevic cannot have won. The European Union and Yugoslavia's neighbors said that Mr. Kostunica did.

The best the dictator can do with a straight face is claim that an Oct. 8 runoff is needed. It would be held under intense scrutiny.

The ouster of Mr. Milosevic, for which Washington has repeatedly called, is not accomplished, but is suddenly thinkable.

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