Milosevic is running for the 28 December polls as the head of the Socialist Party of Serbia from his prison cell at The Hague.

Three other suspected war criminals are also contesting the elections.

Milosevic's candidacy has alarmed European diplomats and Serbian democrats who helped oust him from power three years ago.

In a stark warning, European Union foreign policy envoy Javier Solana said that Brussels expected Serbia to "make a choice between the past and the future", as the republic tries to clinch EU membership.

Election posters of Milosevic in Belgrade have been spat on, defaced and torn down.

But he retains his popularity among hardcore Socialists. Analysts said he could very well be elected to parliament.

Milosevic was dispatched to The Hague in 2001 to face more than 60 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his role in the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

Three other indicted candidates are ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, former Yugoslav army chief of staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic and Serbian Deputy Interior Minister Sreten Lukic.

Democrats unruffled

However, democratic leaders say that the indicted candidates pose no serious political threat.

"Serbia is on its way to Europe. The only question is how fast we will proceed. There is no way to return to isolation"

Miroljub Labus
G17 Plus party leader

"It will make no impact on the domestic political scene," Miroljub Labus of the liberal G17 Plus party said.

"Serbia is on its way to Europe. The only question is how fast we will proceed. There is no way to return to isolation."

Political analysts predict that a pro-Europe, democratic coalition of the DSS and G17 will get a majority in the 250-seat assembly and reforms designed to bring Serbia closer to Europe will continue.

Key issue

But a key issue for Serbia's ambitions of joining the European Union is expected to become even more problematic after the polls, namely cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Centrist parties are against the tribunal, which they blame for fuelling nationalist sentiment with fresh indictments against Serbian generals in advance of the elections.

Leading moderate candidate, former president Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), said The Hague was "poking fun at justice" and repeated his call for a new Serbian law governing Belgrade's cooperation with the court.

His potential coalition partner, Labus, said he was "strongly in favour" of future war crimes cases being dealt with in Serbian courts.