Voicing support for Serbia's EU membership bid, a number of senior Western officials expressed hope this week that the country's democratic forces will win Sunday's parliamentary elections.
(AFP, DPA, Blic - 18/01/07; AP, VOA, US State Department, Beta, B92 - 17/01/07; FT - 16/01/07; AP, UPI - 15/01/07)
A pedestrian passes election posters in Belgrade. Voters will go the polls on Sunday. [Getty Images]
A chorus of senior EU officials voiced hope this week that the parliamentary elections in Serbia on Sunday (January 21st) will produce a pro-reform government that can place the country firmly on the road to European integration.
"It will be up to the new government in Serbia to set the pace," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the Belgrade-based Beta new agency. "Serbia has shown that it has the capacity to quickly proceed once the political obstacles have been removed."
Sunday's vote pits Western-oriented political parties -- including Serbian President Boris Tadic's reformist Democratic Party (DS) and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's moderately conservative Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). -- against parties associated with the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
The most recent polls suggest that Tadic's DS has taken a lead over the ultra nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), nominally still led by Hague war crimes indictee Vojislav Seselj.
According to the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, support for the DS has reached 29%, making them the most popular party in the country. The SRS is in second place with 26%, and the DSS is third with 19%.
Four days before the election, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik and Romanian President Traian Basescu became the latest EU officials to express their support for Serbia's bid to join the Union and to offer assistance in achieving that goal.
"Austria believes in Serbia, and we are ready to continue to support and encourage Serbia," Plassnik told reporters Wednesday after her meeting with Tadic.
"We would like to see the democratic forces win the upcoming election so that Serbia's road to the EU and NATO can continue," Basescu said.
Speaking at a conference in Rome on Tuesday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he expects that "a new reform-oriented and pro-European government in Belgrade will make rapid progress towards the EU".
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Slovakian Foreign Minister Jan Kubiswill, who visited Belgrade earlier this week, also voiced support for Serbia's EU bid.
"We will respect the decision of the voters of Serbia, but we hope from our point of view that it will be a government with which we can engage very fast, very deep and very constructive talks on all of the integration issues," the AP quoted Bildt as saying Monday.
In Washington, State Department Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried voiced hope that Serbia's pro-European parties will win.
"We would like to see a Serbia that chooses Europe, that chooses a European future for itself," Fried said in an interview with the VOA. "Serbia deserves this. The Serbian people deserve a future in Europe no less than any other people in Europe."