Belgrade, Yugoslavia Pro-democracy forces claimed sweeping victory Saturday in Serbia's parliamentary elections, declaring that they now have a mandate to remove the last vestiges of Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Yugoslavia's main republic.
The Democratic Opposition of Serbia, led by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, announced it had won about 64 percent of the vote, compared to about 13 percent for Milosevic's Socialists. The ultranationalist Radical Party trailed with about 8 percent in the elections in Serbia, the larger of two republics that make up Yugoslavia.
The DOS claim was based on a count of about 40 percent of the votes. The Socialists confirmed the results, drawing some comfort from the fact that they will be the largest single party in the parliament because DOS is an 18-party coalition that many political observers expect to break up in the coming year.
"Those who did everything to make the Socialists disappear from the political scene were not right," Socialist Party general-secretary Zoran Andjelkovic said. "I'm sure we'll have 20 percent of the votes in the end."
The biggest loser was the neo-communist Yugoslav Left Party of Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, which won less than 1 percent of the vote, the initial, unofficial results showed.
Exit polls and unofficial returns also showed that the Serbian Renewal Movement led by Vuk Draskovic for years the undisputed leader of the anti-Milosevic movement won only 4 percent of the vote, not enough to make it into parliament. Draskovic's party had refused to join the Kostunica coalition.
If the election results hold, Serbia will have its first non-Socialist government in half a century, since World War II.
"We can already say that we have won overwhelmingly," said Democratic Opposition of Serbia spokesman Cedomir Jovanovic. "This is a great moment for our country."
The Center for Free Elections and Democracy, a leading non-governmental monitoring group that conducted exit polls, predicted that in the 250-member parliament, Kostunica's coalition would take 176 seats, the Socialists 36, the Radicals 23 and in the biggest surprise 15 seats would go to the Serbian Unity Party of indicted war crimes suspect Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan, who was assassinated in Belgrade in January.
Official returns were not expected until today.
"It's pretty clear we have won," said Zoran Djindjic, a Kostunica ally who was slated to become Serbia's new prime minister if the coalition wins. "We will win the elections, but a huge job comes afterward."