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A high price for Serbia's master of spin

Mark Mardell | 19:26 UK time, Monday, 12 May 2008

Was Serbian President Boris Tadic a master of spin on election night, or just genuinely excited?
Serbian President Boris Tadic
He announced, with around 50% of the votes counted, that his pro-European coalition had won the election, and that it was a victory for those who wanted to see Serbia in the European Union.

Spin is a much misused word, but it's classically seizing an event and making sure your interpretation of it is the only interpretation in town.

From Australia to Turkey the victory was front page news, all the better for being unexpected.

Stunning victory

Some Western diplomats feel that, if this was an example of Mr Tadic showing bold leadership, strategic vision and a bit of political know-how, it was about time. But they tend to think he just got carried away.

It was indeed a stunning and unexpected victory for the Coalition for a European Serbia.

They are ten percent ahead of their nearest rivals, the Radicals.

They have increased their votes and the parties which wanted to put a halt to talks with the EU have not.

But, by my reckoning, with nearly all the votes counted, 44% voted for pro-European parties and 48% for the anti's (the missing eight percent went to national minority parties and I am not sure what they think).

Not quite as clear cut as Mr Tadic suggested.

More importantly he will have an uphill struggle forming a government and can't do it without making some unlikely friends.

Socialist key

The Socialists, the party which was led by dictator Slobodan Milosevic, are once again the key to governing Serbia. Their 20 MPs will make or break any coalition.
Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic
At first sight it is much more logical that they would form a government with the Radicals and Kostunica's Serbian Democrats.

The Socialists are passionate about Kosovo staying part of Serbia, suspicious of the European Union, look favourably on Russia and are bitterly opposed to the pursuit of war criminals.

The Radicals agree warmly on all these points.

But slight and strategy may dictate otherwise.

High price

The Socialists were miffed that the Radicals wouldn't do a deal before the election.

And the obvious meeting of minds carries the danger that the Socialists would get lost from electoral view without a distinct profile of their own.

But their price may be too high for Tadic. It is not only their views on Europe and Kosovo and war crimes.

They will also refuse to work with some of the existing and potential coalition parties. They won't talk to the Liberal Democrats, for instance.

They would be bound to clash with G17, which wants more and quicker privatisation.

But insiders say there are real advantages for the Socialists in going into a pro-European government.

They would look distinctive and remove the tarnish of the past.

By associating themselves with a new Serbia they would create a new image for their own party.

They would, in a sense, be the voice of the opposition within the government.

Some diplomats think this is definitely what they want, but there will be a few weeks of thumb-sucking while they look as if they are considering all the options.

Mr Tadic's spin will probably turn out to be right - this was a victory - and his alliance will form a government.

But the price demanded by the Socialists may make it feel a little hollow.

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