16/11/2003 - Results
For the third time in thirteen months the Serbian presidential election has been invalidated due to an insufficient participation rate. Whilst the country's electoral law stipulates that at least half of those enrolled plus one must go to vote in order for the election to be valid only 38.3% of the Serbs voted during the first round of the presidential election on 16th November. This is the third presidential election to have been invalidated after those on 13th October and 8th December 2002 which both witnessed the victory of Vojislav Kostunica, former president of the Republic of the Yugoslav Republic and candidate of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS).
Six candidates stood for the presidential election. The two main ones were Tomislav Nikolic, vice-president of the Radical Party (SRS), and Dragoljub Micunovic, the country's ruling coalition candidate (Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS that unites around fifteen political parties) and present president of the Serbia-Montenegro Parliament. Mr Micunovic, who is 73 years old and a teacher of philosophy was standing as the candidate for the country's united democratic movements who are in favour of drawing closer to the EU and of dialogue with the Albanians from Kosovo. He announced that if he won he would work towards consolidating the State and Serb institutions, he would enlarge the recently established commission to elaborate a new Constitution and take care that Serbia honoured its international obligations, notably towards the International Criminal Court for Ex-Yugoslavia in The Hague. "Serbia is confronted with a very clear choice: democracy and reforms or the restoration of the former regime," maintained Dragoljub Micunovic. Tomislav Nikolic, 51 years old, is the former Deputy Prime Minister Slobodan Milosevic, is now the interim president of the Radical Party. The leader of this party Vojislav Seselj, former candidate in the last two presidential elections (29th September, first round and 8th December 2002) turned himself over to the ICC for Ex-Yugoslavia in The Hague in February, since he has been accused of war crimes against the non Serb populations of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Voïvodine. "If I am elected no other Serb will be sent to The Hague," repeated the ultra-nationalist candidate during his meetings that he generally concluded with "Long live Greater Serbia!» "If anyone has proof about a Serb committing war crime he should present them here and we shall judge them here. We do not like to be called war criminals," he declared on 11th November during a meeting in Belgrade.
Amongst the other four candidates only one, Velimir Ilic, was known to the general public. He is the Mayor of Cacak, a town situated 160 kilometres south of the capital, Belgrade. He is the leader of New Serbia (NS), a party that left the ruling coalition just a few months ago.
Tomislav Nikolic's victory was a real surprise in this first round of the presidential election, since invalidation was the greatest expectation. The ultra-nationalist candidate won 45% of the vote, with 36% for Dragoljub Micunovic who suffered both from the existing divisions within the reform parties and the call for boycott launched by the two former presidential candidates, Vojislav Kostunica and Mirojlub Labus, on 13th October 2002,.
The organisation of this presidential election by the Serb government has been criticised. They did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the election would be validated whilst all opinion polls indicated that electorate apathy was greater than ever - leading to the conclusion that they wanted to distract Serb attention from the political scandals that had erupted over the last few weeks. This in turn had led to requests by the opposition for the elections to be held early. This state of affairs led Vojislav Kostunica and Mirojlub Labus, the former leader of the G 17 Plus and former Deputy Prime Minister of the Federal Government close to Zoran Djindjic, the Serb Prime Minister who was assassinated on 12th March 2003, to call for a boycott of the presidential election on 16th November. Both men had distanced themselves from the ruling coalition whom they accuse "of corruption, incompetence and of creating oligarchic links with the former regime." In addition to this and contrary to its commitments the ruling coalition had still not reviewed the electoral rolls that dated back to Slobodan Milosevic's time. Although the government defended itself by maintaining that this presidential election was obligatory according to the electoral calendar everyone remembers that the Democratic Opposition of Serbia declared several times its desire for the head of State to be chosen by Parliament and not to be elected by the people. This new invalidation of the presidential election has happened at just the right time for the ruling coalition to put forward a new argument in favour of appointing a president by parliamentary representatives.
The Social Democrat Party's decision (SDP) no longer to support the ruling coalition led to the dissolution of Parliament and to the announcement of the holding of early general elections on 28th December next. As a result of this Serbia no longer has any authority able to convene a new presidential election. To this effect Ms Natacha Micic, the present president of the Serbian Parliament, who had also ensured the role of interim President since October 2002, lost her function since the dissolution of Parliament. Serbia, that no longer has either a President or Parliament, is only being led by Zoran Zivkovic's government.
The Radical Party emerges strengthened from the first round of the presidential election and might aspire to achieving a good result in the general election on 28th December. On 17th November the Prime Minister called on the reform camp to unite with the elections on the horizon: "We must not allow Serbia to stop the reforms and even less to regress,» declared Zoran Zivkovic. The six remaining weeks before the general elections will not be too much for the Democrat and Reform forces in the country to reach a middle ground.