BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Out of spite and defiance, Radosav Ristic cast his ballot yesterday for the Socialist Party of Serbian .. President Slobodan Milosevic because that was the choice he believed would most irk his Western enemies.
It is not that Mr. Ristic relishes his nation's role as a pariah state or that he is immune to the hardships of U.N. sanctions imposed in order to break Serbia's will for waging war against Croatia and Bosnia.
The vote by the 51-year-old manager of a barren, state-owned food shop was a gesture of contempt for an outside world that he is powerless to influence and a demonstration of the nationalist pride likely to reinforce Mr. Milosevic's grip on power.
"Milosevic is the best man to get sanctions lifted, and I'm not afraid to say so," Mr. Ristic insisted. "I know that is not what America wants, but it is our right to decide."
Early, partial returns from yesterday's election for the 250-seat Serbian Parliament showed an opposition coalition called DEPOS leading in the capital of Belgrade, but Mr. Milosevic's Socialists ahead everywhere else in the country.
Official results are not expected until Tuesday, and, in the absence of reliable polling, few political observers were confident that they could predict the outcome.
But even the most avid opponents of Mr. Milosevic, who see his five years in power as the cause of Serbia's ruin, concede that his Socialists are likely to remain the strongest force in the next Parliament and the controlling party in a governing coalition if he is forced to share power.
As the ruling party, the Socialists have been blamed by many urban Serbs for the record hyperinflation that has made the dinar the currency Serbia shares with Montenegro, its junior partner in the rump Yugoslavia -- virtually worthless and gutted the incomes and pensions of this republic's 10 million people.
Yet Mr. Milosevic has edged tantalizingly close to delivering his long-promised state of Greater Serbia. Land seized by Serbian rebels in the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina is expected to be proclaimed part of a union with Serbia as soon as a Western-mediated peace accord can be concluded. Some sources in Belgrade predict that such a pact may be signed in Geneva or Brussels later this week.
Turnout throughout Serbia was strong, according to Electoral Committee Chairman Zoran Djumic.
TV Serbia reported that more than 50 percent of the 7 million eligible voters had cast their ballots by noon, ensuring that this fourth parliamentary vote in three years would be deemed valid.
Voters in Belgrade expressed more support for the array of left- and right-wing opposition parties than for the Socialists.
But in the countryside, where most voting-age Serbs reside, living conditions have not been so drastically affected by sanctions.