Serbia’s pro-Western President Boris Tadic faces nationalist challenger Tomislav Nikolic on Sunday in an election that is seen as a referendum on the nation’s future.Here is a brief profile of the two politicians, who last squared off in the 2004 presidential election.
* The tall, solemn 55-year-old has led the Radicals since February 2003 when official party head Vojislav Seselj surrendered to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague to face charges of war crimes in the 1990s.
* Demonized by the West and liberal Serbs as the spiritual heir to Slobodan Milosevic, who led Serbia through a decade of wars and poverty, Nikolic has moved to shed the ultranationalist image with a softer line on national issues and populist pledges to battle corruption and boost living standards.
* He says he will never accept the loss of breakaway Kosovo, whose Albanian majority expects to get independence within months, but won’t lead Serbia to war over it.
* He favors European Union membership but only on Serbia’s terms, and is against the country joining NATO, which bombed it to expel its forces from Kosovo in 1999. He wants close ties with Russia, China and the Arab world.
* In May 2007 he was voted to the post of parliament speaker at the height of a political crisis between Serbia’s pro-Western parties. International and domestic furor over his election led to him being deposed after five days, making him the speaker with the shortest mandate in Serbian history.
* He won 40 percent of the vote in the first round.
* Son of a communist-era dissident, the 50-year-old psychologist went into politics in the mid-1990s as an activist against autocrat Slobodan Milosevic, emerging as one of a crop of liberal, pro-Western reformers after Milosevic’s disastrous 13-year rule ended in 2000.
* He served as minister of telecommunications and defense in Serbia’s first post-Milosevic governments, and emerged as leader of the centre-left Democratic Party in 2004 after an internal power struggle following the March 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
* He lost to Nikolic in the first round of the 2004 presidential vote, but consolidated centrist votes for a second-round victory with 53 percent.
* He has fallen short of the expectations of the West, and of his supporters, during three-and-a-half years as president. He is seen as being cornered by his coalition partner, moderate nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, and forced to highlight his patriotism by vowing to never give up Kosovo, while sticking to promises of fast European Union accession.
* In his campaign he has stressed that a vote for Nikolic would mean returning Serbia to the era of autocrat Slobodan Milosevic. He has tried to consolidate the liberal vote by proving his reformist credentials, while also wooing
conservatives who are worried about being shut out of the EU.
* He won 35.4 percent of the vote in the first round.