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Serbia - Presidential Election

Presidentidal election annulled once more for lack of participation

Presidentidal election annulled once more for lack of participation

08/12/2002 - Results

In spite of the numerous appeals to vote that were launched by everyone during the electoral campaign only 43.88% of Serb voters went to ballot on Sunday 8th December to elect the new President of the Serb Republic, ie 6.12% less than the necessary minimum required by law for the first round to be declared valid by the Serb electoral commission. Once more and for the third time in five years (presidential elections in 1997, 13th October last and finally 8th December), the election was invalidated. This opens the way to a political crisis that in a politically unstable country, where there are already many economic and social problems, might lead to serious consequences.

On 4th December a group of intellectuals, amongst others the film producer Emir Kusturica made appeals in several Serb dailies for people to turn out to vote. "We're voting for a democratic Serbia. Join us, come and vote on 8th December", announced the advert. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had also decided to encourage the Serbs to vote. "The eyes of the international community will be on you on 8th December", declared Mark Davison. Walter Schwimmer, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe also made an appeal on 6th December for "a major turn out of the electorate in order to put democracy into practice". An appeal was conveyed by Javier Solana, the High Representative for Foreign Policy for the European Union. Finally after much hesitation, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic finally decided to appeal to the Serbs to mobilise for the presidential election.

The high score achieved by Vojislav Seselj, president of the radical party (SRS), who enjoys the support of the ex-President Slobodan Milosevic, confirms the image of a divided Serbia. Although one part of the electorate wants to join the international community as quickly as possible and sees the present transition as the best way to strengthen democracy, a major part of the Serbs still have confidence in the most extremist nationalist leaders in spite of ten years of war and international isolation. Together the two ultra-nationalist candidates won nearly 40% of the vote. As for Vojislav Kostunica he suffered a real insult, winning the presidential election for the second time in under two months and yet without managing to be elected President of Serbia.

Many voters abstained in order to express both their discontent with the candidates standing and their lassitude towards their constant struggles for power. All of the players on the Serb political scene bear some responsibility, to a greater or lesser degree, for the failure of this election. And primarily they are the two main personalities in the country, President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica and the Prime Minister of Serbia Zoran Djindjic who, in spite of the agreement to solve the political crisis, and for want of a real desire to do so, did not succeed in putting an end to their quarrels. Zoran Djindjic did however abandon presenting a candidate against the Yugoslav President but he did not motivate either his supporters nor his party's structures in favour of the election of one single democratic candidate.

On Sunday after having voted Vojislav Kostunica accused Zoran Djindjic of wanting to make the election fail since he was pleading for the election the President of the Serb Republic by Parliament. Simultaneously the Prime Minister accused the President of Yugoslavia of being "the only one responsible" for the possible failure of the election. "Vojislav Kostunica received an offer of my support that he contemptuously rejected", indicated Zoran Djindjic who did in fact stress the previous week that he had absolutely no intention of supporting the Yugoslav President. The Prime Minister thought it better to declare on the very day of the election another possible failure "that would not damage Serbia's image". He is now in danger however of being the first victim of the political crisis since the Parliamentary majority that he enjoys is diminishing from day to day.

The political crisis in Serbia might also effect the neighbouring state of Montenegro. An agreement on the Constitutional Charter that is due to govern relations between the two countries within the new state of Serbia and Montenegro to be born this coming January was finally reached with the latter just a few days ago. We should also point out that within this context that the position of President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that is occupied at present by Vojislav Kostunica is due to disappear since both republics will each have greater autonomy in their new union. The text of the Constitutional Charter still has to be approved however by the three parliaments of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro.

As early as Sunday evening Vojislav Kostunica contested the election results. The Yugoslav President maintains that the electoral lists had been tampered with so that the presidential election would fail. "The electoral lists contains the dead that Slobodan Milosevic buried and that Zoran Djindjic revived", he declared adding that around 450,000 people on the lists were in an irregular situation. "If the lists had been updated, even slightly, the 50% participation quota would have been reached", concluded the Yugoslav President, communicating his and his party's decision (Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS) to lodge an appeal in court. On Saturday the electoral commission that includes members of the DSS announced that 6,525,760 people were registered on the electoral lists.

Officially the president of Parliament, Natasa Micic, who is close to Zoran Djindjic, will ensure, for a maximum three month period, the interim function of president at the end of the present mandate of President Milan Milutinovic ie from 8th January 2003 onwards. This is a possibility that Vojislav Kostunica has qualified as being "a true violation of the Constitution". After the failure of this presidential election several scenarios are now possible. Firstly a third presidential election could be organised with the vote possibly taking place in February 2003. The second possibility is that Parliament might vote in, for the first time ever, a new change to the electoral law in order to do away with the clause of the obligatory minimum 50% participation in the election. Finally as soon as the invalidation of the election was announced those close to Zoran Djindjic intimated that Parliament would modify the Constitution quickly and appoint the future President of the Republic itself, a means of indirect election that Zoran Djindjic has always been in favour of. On leaving the polling station the Serb Prime Minister also declared that the political reform the country most urgently needed was a change in the Constitution. It is true that the present text, written in 1990 for Slobodan Milosevic comprises a serious handicap to the voting in of new reform laws that Parliament would like to adopt, since these are very often revealed as being unconstitutional.

Vojislav Kostunica has threatened to call for early general elections. However his movement, the Democratic Party of Serbia, only has 45 MP's (out of a total of 250) and would, in order to overthrow the government, have to join forces with the opposition that includes supporters of Vojislav Seselj and members of the Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party.

For the time being only one thing seems definite: when his presidential mandate expires on 8th January, Milan Milutinovic, who is accused of war crimes in Kosovo by the International Criminal Court for Ex-Yugoslavia in The Hague, is due to be the target of an international legal procedure for his transfer to the ICC. As far as his successor is concerned as leader of Serbia, we shall have to wait a few more days even weeks before we find out how and when his appointment will be approached, such is the magnitude of confusion hanging over Belgrade just after the second presidential election in under two months.

Results of the Serb presidential election on 8th December:

Participation : 43.88%, ie a lower participation rate than the minimum required by law; the election was therefore invalidated.

Source: Electoral Commission of Serbia
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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