Serbs Go to Polls in Critical Elections

Since the ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, Serbians have seen half a dozen democratic elections, but perhaps few as important as Sunday's, when more than 6½ million Serbs are expected to head to the polls.

Voters are expected to decide whether to continue with pro-Western reforms or revert back to the country's nationalist past.

Specific challenges include handling Western demands for the arrest of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic and the dispute over Kosovo's status.

The province of Kosovo has been the center of Serbian Christianity and civilization since the Middle Ages, but at the same time it's population is more than 90 percent Albanian, and has not been administered by Belgrade since the NATO bombing campaign in 1999.

The vast majority of Serbs accept that Albanians should rule themselves, but many are having a hard time with the idea of an independent Kosovo.

Some political watchers see the vote splitting three ways.

At the right of the political spectrum, there is the Serbian Radical Party, a nationalistic movement that places the fidelity of Kosovo at the top of it's agenda and which could make up as much as 30 percent of the electorate.

On the left, there is the Western-backed Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic.

In the center is the party led by outgoing Prime Minister Kostunica, which will have to decide which of the two larger parties to align with.

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution expressing support for Serbia's democratic forces, which means all the parties except the Radical Party and Milosevic's Socialist Party.

The first task of the new democratic government may be the capture of Ratko Mladic, indicted for war crimes in Bosnia by the Hague Tribunal.

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