No surprises were expected in yesterday’s two run-off elections. In Brazil, incumbent Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has comfortably defeated challenger Geraldo Alckmin, with 60% of the vote, for a second term as president.

Results in the Democratic Republic of Congo will take longer to emerge, but president Joseph Kabila, who led with about 45% in the first round, is tipped to beat his rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba.

More interesting was yesterday’s referendum in Serbia on the adoption of a new constitution (made necessary by the secession of Montenegro earlier this year).

The result was not in doubt, in the sense that a majority of those voting were certain to approve it. But to be valid, a “yes” vote was required from a majority of the whole electorate.

Since turnout only reached 53.5%, that wasn’t going to be easy. Reuters, however, reports this morning that preliminary figures show approval from 51.6% of the electorate, or about 96% of those who voted.

The big selling point for the constitution was its assertion that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia, despite the fact that negotiations on its final status are still in progress.

The province has been under UN occupation since 1999, and its ethnic Albanians, who make up the vast majority of the population (and who were not consulted in the referendum), are set on independence.

The modest turnout suggests that ethnic chauvinism is not as popular in Serbia as some people think. While it suits both politicians and the media to portray ethnic hatreds as deep-seated and spontaneous, more often than not they are manufactured by their leaders for their own purposes – a top-down rather than a bottom-up process.

Thus Slobodan Milosevic carefully stoked the fires of nationalism over Kosovo back in the 1980s – just as ethnic warlords in Iraq have been playing up that country’s tensions as a route to power for themselves.

Approval of the new constitution means that early elections can be held in Serbia, and they will be a test for the strength of nationalist sentiment. Current prime minister Vojislav Kostunica has used the nationalist threat to withstand Western pressure over subjects like Kosovo.

But it seems possible that if left to make up their own minds, the majority of Serbs might be willing to just let Kosovo go.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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