AP, October 10, 2002
Kostunica, challenger seek advantage in Serbia's first U.S.-style TV debate
By DUSAN STOJANOVIC, Associated Press Writer
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his pro-Western challenger faced off Wednesday in an
unprecedented U.S.-style TV debate days ahead of Serbian presidential
elections, both warning against the likely failure of the vote.
In a joint statement read out at the opening of the 120-minute TV duel,
Kostunica and his challenger Miroljub Labus, a deputy Yugoslav prime
minister, called on voters to go to the polls "because it is not only
their right, but also their moral obligation."
Kostunica said that a failure of the vote would "trigger chaos and
instability in the country."
Reflecting growing fears that Sunday's runoff vote will fail because of
low turnout, Serbian Patriarch Pavle also issued a dramatic appeal for
Serbs to vote.
The patriarch's appeal, his second since the first round of the election
on Sept. 29, comes as public opinion researchers predict that turnout
might be too low for the election to be valid.
If less than 50 percent of the electorate votes in the runoff, the
results would be annulled and the election would have to be repeated in
two months. Only 56 of eligible voters cast ballots in the first round,
and some parties have since called for a boycott, raising the risk that
Sunday's ballot will be invalidated.
Kostunica, a moderate nationalist who advocates cautious reforms, won
more votes in the first round than Labus, who supports swift economic
reforms. Labus is close to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic,
Kostunica's chief rival.
Djindjic and Kostunica have been bickering over the pace and style of
reforms in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic, since the two jointly
ousted former President Slobodan Milosevic in October
During the TV debate, Labus said if Kostunica were to win, Serbia would
be destabilized by constant quarreling among its top officials. "I don't
believe you are a good president for Serbia," Labus said, addressing
Kostunica responded by saying that that if wins, it would "guarantee the
unity and democracy" of the republic. He also said he would seek to
topple Djindjic's government, which he accused of having links to
In return, Labus accused Kostunica of slandering Djindjic without
providing any evidence. He also praised Djindjic's government, saying it
was performing well during a difficult transition period.
Polls indicate that about half of the electorate plans to abstain from
voting. Many here are irritated by the endless bickering among elected
officials as living standards continue to decline. Analysts hope that a
good showing by either of the candidates during the TV debate could
increase voter turnout.
Kostunica and Labus mostly engaged in polite debate, and it was not
immediately evident that either had gained an advantage.
Coming in third in the opening round of the Serbian presidential race
was a Milosevic ally, ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj, who had
Milosevic's backing from his prison cell at the war crimes court in The
Seselj could get another chance to run for the presidency if the vote is
declared invalid and another election is held.