BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The government released a nationwide poll Wednesday that showed 79 percent of Yugoslavs supported the free-market policies of reformist Prime Minister Ante Markovic.
The poll of 4,320 people commissioned by the government was conducted by research organizations from six universities around the country between May 26 and June 26. A summary was released at a news conference by Information Secretary Darko Marin.
The findings confirmed popular support for Markovic, a communist reformer who took office 16 months ago with the goal of implementing Western-style political and economic reforms after 45 years of Communist Party rule.
Markovic has calmed inflation, reduced the foreign debt and introduced measures to create a Western-style economic system and legalize political parties. He also promised to hold before 1991 the first free parliamentary elections since the communist takeover at the end of World War II.
Meanwhile, Foreign Trade Minister Franc Horvat announced that Yugoslavia's trade deficit grew to $1.3 billion in the first six months of this year, fueled by a major spurt in Western imports.
To fight inflation, Markovic liberalized imports to boost the availability of foreign goods and force domestic firms to lower prices.
Horvat said the deficit would have been larger had exports not risen by twice their projected amount to $8.7 billion, a 33 percent increase. He also said that during July imports leveled off, creating a small surplus for the month.
The poll found that 79 percent of Yugoslavia's 23 million people would support Markovic if the country was to hold a vote of confidence in his government, while only 5 percent would cast negative tallies. Sixteen percent were undecided.
Asked about Markovic's reform program, 66 percent said it was 'the right solution' and only 7 percent expressed disapproval.
'Hardly any government in the world can boast of such support,' Marin said.
Markovic's success in handling the economy and the lack of any national leader of similar stature have led many people to regard him as the only politician capable of guiding Yugoslavia through its current political troubles.
Marin said the survey would help policy-makers and also provide Markovic with crucial ammunition in his fight against resistance to his program from recently elected nationalist governments in the republics of Croatia and Slovenia and an entrenched communist regime in Serbia.
All three are hindering Markovic's proposals to increase the federal government's taxation and administrative powers. The survey said 58 percent of the people believed the government should be granted more fiscal authority.
The survey also found that 42 percent of Yugoslavs fear the future, while 33 percent have mixed feelings and 14 percent are optimistic. Fifty-two percent said the feuds between the republics and tensions with the central government require more urgent action than any other problems facing the nation.
Croatia and Slovenia, fearing dominance by the majority Serbs, are demanding a new constitution making the country a confederation of independent states. Serbia and the four other republics are proposing a federation.
The poll found 24 percent support the federation plan, while 21 percent favor a confederation. Only 7 percent said the country should split up.