Foes and supporters of Slobodan Milosevic both fell short of victory Monday in presidential elections in Yugoslavia's two republics, leaving the authoritarian Yugoslav leader in control - at least for now.
In Serbia, the dominant republic, the election commission said that with 85 percent of the vote counted, extreme nationalist Vojislav Seselj led Milosevic protege Zoran Lilic 49.68 percent to 46.99 percent.But it said turnout was about 49 percent, just shy of the 50 percent threshold needed for a valid election.
In the race for the presidency of Yugoslavia's other republic, Montenegro, the election commission reported that incumbent Momir Bulatovic led challenger Milo Djuka-novic, a Milosevic foe, by about 2,000 votes with 99.7 percent of the votes counted. But the presence of six other candidates appeared likely to prevent either Bulatovic or Djukanovic from getting a majority.
Milosevic is a regional power broker whose influence ignited and then quelled the war in Bosnia. Losses by candidates he has supported could affect his ability to extend his stay in power as Yugoslav president.
If turnout is less than 50 percent in Serbia, elections will have to be rerun in two months. With no winner in Montenegro, a runoff will be held in two weeks.
In Serbia, both Lilic and Seselj claimed a slim lead. The spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party, Ivica Dacic, said Lilic was ahead by about 4,000 votes with almost all results in.
However, he said it was "highly possible there won't be 50 percent turnout."
Selselj's party said the requisite 50 percent voter turnout was reached, and threatened to resort to force if Milosevic tried to nullify their victory.
"They should be very careful with us Radicals," said Aleksandar Vucic, an aide to Seselj. "We are not like other opposition parties, walking around with whistles."
Vucic was referring to months of pro-democracy demonstrations this year by opponents of Milosevic. Their nonviolent protests eventually forced Milosevic to recognize their victories in local elections.
However, their coalition disintegrated within months. Deeply suspicious of both Lilic and Seselj, a former Serb paramilitary leader in Croatia and Bosnia, opposition leaders boycotted the balloting. They said Milosevic's control of media and other levers of power made a fair vote impossible.