Budva, Yugoslavia Denying the opposition's claim to victory over Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the state-controlled Federal Electoral Commission on Tuesday said a runoff election must be held because no presidential candidate won an outright majority.
But opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica, who has declared himself president-elect based on counts at poll stations that gave him more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday's balloting, said his 18-party coalition will boycott the runoff tentatively scheduled for Oct. 8.
Calling the Federal Electoral Commission's statement "so unserious that it hardly merits a serious comment," Kostunica termed the runoff "an offer that can and has to be rejected even more because it is insulting for all citizens of this country."
"It is a political swindle, an obvious stealing of votes" to force a runoff election, Kostunica said in a signed statement released Tuesday night. He accused Milosevic of "trying to buy time in order to cause disorder among citizens in that period and quarrels in the ranks of parties of the democratic opposition."
The commission, which is dominated by Milosevic loyalists, said its preliminary results showed Kostunica in the lead but short of the required majority.
With the ballots counted from all but 347 of the country's 10,500 polling stations, Kostunica received 48.22 percent of the votes to Milosevic's 40.23 percent, the commission reported in a statement read on state-run television.
Before the commission's announcement, the coalition backing Kostunica said he was leading with 55 percent to Milosevic's 35 percent after more than 97 percent of the ballots were counted. The figures are based on official counts at polling stations, which were submitted for certification to the electoral commission in Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia and of the larger of its two republics, Serbia.
The opposition demanded to see proof backing up the figures released by the electoral commission. On Monday, opposition members were kicked off the commission and out of the Parliament building, where ballot counts were being certified.
Zoran Djindjic, Kostunica's campaign manager, told reporters: "We don't believe that they have evidence." The commission was floating a "trial balloon" for Milosevic to test people's reaction, he said.
Djindjic confirmed in an earlier interview that representatives of the Yugoslav president had contacted the opposition to try to negotiate a deal for a second-round ballot. But the opposition rejected the offer, insisting that it is only willing to talk about "a peaceful transition, preventing revenge and (guaranteeing) the personal safety" of Milosevic, Djindjic said.
"I think the issue here is a big swindle and falsification of results," Djindjic said.
In Washington, President Clinton urged Milosevic, who has been in power for 13 years, to accept the will of the people. Clinton said the U.S. and its allies were prepared to lift economic sanctions on Serbia if Milosevic steps down.