Former law professor Vojislav Kostunica is tipped to topple Yugoslavia's authoritarian president Slobodan Milosevic in elections next Sunday.
An opinion poll in Belgrade last weekend gave Kostunica, who represents the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition of 18 parties, 51.2 per cent of the votes against just 13.4 per cent for Milosevic.
Kostunica is a lifelong anti-communist, a moderate Serb nationalist and an economic liberal. His campaign posters say, "Who can look you straight in the eye? Kostunica."
The 56-year-old Kostunica was a constitutional law professor at Belgrade University. In 1974, he was among staff forced to resign for opposing constitutional changes.
Kostunica is supported by most of the influential opposition forces, including the student-led movement Otpor. For students, Kostunica has a special appeal, largely due to his "finest hour" under communist rule when he defended a fellow academic dismissed because of his dissident ideas.
Described as an "uncharismatic" figure with a serious face, he owes his growing popularity to the fact that he is the most viable opposition to Milosevic. He and his wife live modestly in a Belgrade suburb and drive a communist-era Yugo car.
Last weekend, during a visit to Serbia's northern province of Vojvodina, where ethnic Hungarians form the largest group in the population, he suggested that under his rule, Vojvodinan Hungarians would be included in a new Yugoslav government. He promised that his election to the presidency and a victory for the DOS in local polls would mean "new opportunities" for Yugoslavia's ethnic minorities.
Paradoxically, in his campaign speeches, he speaks of Nato "aggression" against Yugoslavia last year while urging a rapprochement with the West and blaming the Kosovo war on Milosevic's policies.