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Serbia - General Elections

General elections in Serbia, 21st january 2007

General elections in Serbia, 21st january 2007

23/11/2006 - Analysis

Around 6.6 million Serbs are being called to ballot on 21st January next to elect the 250 members of Parliament. After the official declaration of independence by Montenegro on 3rd June the Serb Parliament adopted a declaration on 5th June making Serbia the official successor to the former State of Serbia and Montenegro. On 15th June former federal minister for Foreign Affairs, Vuk Draskovic who became the Serb Foreign Minister acknowledged the independence of Montenegro and seven days later signed an agreement protocol with his Montenegrin counterpart for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two States.

On 10th November last the Serb Parliament adopted a constitutional law enabling the organisation of early general elections (initially planned for the end of 2007). This decision was taken because the democratic parties did not want the debate over the future of Kosovo to take the main place in the electoral campaign. The latter are hoping that by organising the election before the UN decision is declared they will manage to keep in check the ultra-nationalists of the Radical Party (SRS) and the Socialist Party (SPS). In 2007, the Serbs will also be called upon to elect their provincial and local representatives and on 31st May the President of the Republic.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (DSS) prides himself in working towards achieving a Serb Kosovo via the adoption of the new Constitution which made the province an "inalienable part" of Serbia. "Kosovo has always been and will remain an integral and inalienable party of Serbia," he declared.

In order not to interfere in the general elections on 21st January next the delivery of the report by the UN special envoy for Kosovo, Martti Athisaari, on the future status of the province to the contact group (which rallies Germany, the USA, France, Italy, Russia and the UK) was delayed until the beginning of 2007. The Albanians of Kosovo are demanding the province's independence whilst the Serbs are refusing to give up a territory they believe to be the cradle of their history, the greater autonomy of which they do not appear to be ready to accept.

The political system

The National Assembly is the only Chamber in the Serb Parliament. It comprises 250 members elected for a 4 year period by a proportional voting system within a single constituency. Each electoral list must bear the signatures of at least 10,000 citizens in order to be able to run, the figure is fixed at 3 000 for parties representing the minorities.

The present National Assembly comprises 7 political parties:

- The Democrat Party (DS), a democratic party led by the present President of the Republic, Boris Tadic, with 37 MPs;

- The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), a democratic party led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, with 53 seats:

- The Radical Party (SRS), an ultra-nationalist party led by formation Vojislav Seselj, former Deputy Prime Minister to Slobodan Milosevic; the former is in prison in The Hague since he was handed over in February 2003 accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the ICTY. The party whose president is Tomislav Nikolic has 82 seats;

- G17 Plus, a member of the present government coalition led by Finance Minister, Mladjan Dinkic with 34 seats;

- The Socialist Party (SPS), the party of former President Slobodan Milosevic, who died on 11th March 2006 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague where he was imprisoned and on trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes; the trial had just entered its fifth year. The party led by Ivica Dacic has 22 MPs;

- The Movement for Serb Renewal (SPO) led by author and historical leader of the democratic opposition in the 1990's and present Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, and New Serbia (NS) led by Velimir Ilic. Together the two parties are members of the government coalition led by Vojislav Kostunica, with 22 seats.

The electoral law was reformed in 2006 and the obligatory threshold of 5% of the votes cast to be represented in Parliament was abolished; this reform was intended to enable the minorities (Rom, Hungarian, Croat, and Romanian, Bosnian etc.) to win between one and three seats. The international community insisted on the minorities being better represented in the National Assembly. In addition to this the number of signatures necessary to be able to take part in the general elections was reduced to 3,000 (instead of 10,000 in the past) for the lists of parties representing the minorities.

The stakes

The new Serb Constitution replaces the previous Fundamental Law promulgated in 1990 under Slobodan Milosevic's government; for the first time since 1918 it defines Serbia as an independent country, acknowledging the dismantling of Yugoslavia which was completed on 21st May last with the independence of Montenegro. The preamble stipulates: "The province of Kosovo is an integral part of the territory of Serbia, with substantial autonomy within the framework of the sovereign State of Serbia and as a result all government institutions are constitutionally obliged to defend the interests of Serbia in Kosovo." The text stipulates that the President of the Republic must start his oath by saying: "I swear that I shall dedicate all my strength to maintaining the sovereignty of the territory of the Republic of Serbia including that of Kosovo which is a part of it."

The new Constitution approved unanimously by Parliament in September 2006 was adopted by 53.04% of the electorate on 28th and 29th October last. "It is an historic moment, the moment when Serbia shows clearly that it wants to protect its unity and that Kosovo is an integral party of Serbia," said Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on television. "The citizens of Serbia have decided to support European Serbia," maintained the President of the Republic, Boris Tadic, adding that "this Constitution heralds the end of the Slobodan Milosevic era. It is better than the previous one. It is not only a Constitution about Kosovo it is also a Constitution which defines the Serb State in an improved way. Our political objective is not only the new Constitution but also European norms for our citizens and finally membership of the European Union."

All of the political parties appealed for a vote in favour of the new Fundamental Law but several opposition parties criticised the lack of national debate during the writing of the text and as a result boycotted the referendum. The Serbs of Kosovo took part in the referendum on the Constitution en masse. In some towns, notably Prizren and Pec, the participation rate rose to 96%. The Albanians, who have not taken part in any election organised in Serbia since 1990, boycotted the referendum.

Last May the EU suspended negotiations on the stabilisation and association agreement, the first stage towards accession in order put pressure the Serb authorities into co-operating with the ICTY in The Hague notably with regard to the arrest of two former political and military leaders of the Serbs of Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, accused of committing genocide against the Bosnian population during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995). "We know that co-operation with the ICTY will be a priority of the new democratic government. All perpetrators of crimes must be arrested and this rule must not be subject to any type of compromise," maintained President Tadic.

"Serbia is welcome in the EU. It is a country we want to see in the Union," said Javier Solana, High Representative for the CFSP of the EU. "After the general elections, if the new government shows its desire to co-operate with the ICTY, this will become a reality," he added. On 14th December last President of the Italian Council Romano Prodi, with the support of Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and Greece suggested as a "positive sign" to the democratic Serb forces that "full co-operation" with the ICTY should no longer be linked with the re-initiation of negotiations and only with the application of the agreements. "The best way to help the democratic forces in Serbia is to be coherent, in other words to adhere to our terms," answered Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Enlargement. "The EU supports the ICTY, that is our attitude," added Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen whose country holds the Chair of the Union until 31st December. EU Foreign Ministers have planned to meet on 22nd January next, i.e. the day after the Serb general elections in order to re-evaluate the country's political situation.

The electoral campaign

Although the future status of Kosovo is to be decided after the general elections the question of the province's future is however the central point of debate just one month before the election. This problem and the socio-economic crisis affecting Serbia are the two main stakes in the general elections on 21st January.

The programme put forward by the Democrat Party lays emphasis on the country's accession to the EU and the fight against poverty. The head of the Democrat Party list is Ruzica Djindjic, widow of former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (DS) assassinated on 12th March 2003 – a crime for which 13 suspects are awaiting sentence in Belgrade. Ruzica Djindjic said she felt she had "a moral obligation" with regard to the Democrat Party. After having refused to take the lead of the Democrat Party at the beginning of the year due to "family reasons", Ruzica Djindjic accepted to be the party's chief candidate in the general elections. "I owe it to myself to help towards the democratic transformation of Serbia. I want the democrats to complete the work started by my husband," she maintained. She said that she had been influenced by recent events and says she is convinced that the upcoming elections will be decisive: "either Serbia will continue on its democratic path drawn up by her husband or it will opt for regression." She refused to answer any questions with regard to the name of the future Prime Minister saying that she could not see herself taking on such a position; she did say however that she was "standing by" just in case the party asked her to do so. "A woman Prime Minister would strengthen the position of women in Serbia," she stressed. The Democrat Party list comprises representatives from the Hungarian and Romanian minorities and a third of the seats are reserved for these candidates.

The Democratic Party of Serbia is relying on the results produced by Vojislav Kostunica, head of government since 4th March 2004. The Prime Minister who is running to take office again can indeed boast a list of achievements including the stabilisation of political life which obliged the Radical Party and the Social Party to assume compromises. Vojislav Kostunica can also boast the reforms launched by his government such as the introduction of VAT, privatisation, the reform of the justice system and the media. The out-going government is however being accused of losing Montenegro which became independent on 21st May and its failure to reform the security services. The Democratic Party of Serbia has allied itself with New Serbia, United Serbia and the Movement for Serbian Renewal for these general elections.

G17 Plus is pointing to the socio-economic crisis that the country is suffering and is promising to reduce unemployment by half. The party has also promised to abolish visas for Serb citizens travelling in the EU by 2008.

The Radical Party has announced via its interim president, Tomislav Nikolic, that it will not take part in a government with the Democrat Party or the Democratic Party of Serbia. "Serb citizens know that the international community is in favour of the independence of Kosovo and they will punish the anti-national behaviour of Boris Tadic and Vojislav Kostunica," declared Tomislav Nikolic.

Vojislav Seselj is the chief candidate for the Radical Party. He went on hunger strike for 28 days between 10th November and 7th December in protest against his treatment at the ICTY in The Hague. This action aimed to mobilise the party's electorate, which holds the majority in Parliament with the upcoming general elections in mind. The Radical Party is campaigning against Kosovo's independence and the suspension of Serbia's negotiations with the EU. The party is using the discontent displayed by a part of the population, the difficulties experienced by the poorest and Serb nationalism to gain votes.

On 5th December Ivica Dacic was elected as head of the Socialist Party by 1, 287 votes versus 792 for his rival Milorad Vucelic. The new president who has taken over the post of Slobodan Milosevic is against Serbia joining NATO, the organisation which bombarded the country in 1999 but it is in favour of the country joining the EU. During its congress the Socialist Party voted on a resolution in honour of the "heroic work achieved by Slobodan Milosevic to defend the Serb people." The Socialist Party and the Radical Party lost the local elections which took place in several towns in the south of the country. Both parties notably lost the town of Leskovac to the Democrat Party and G17 Plus.

The Albanian parties of the Presevo Valley (South) will take part in the elections, for the first time since the 1990's. These parties who boycotted all of the elections for 16 years decided to take part after the modification of the electoral law by Parliament. Together the three parties – the Party for Democratic Action (PDD) led by Riza Halimi, the Movement for Democratic Progress (PDP) led by Jonuz Musliu and the Democratic Union of the Valley (DUD) led by Skender Destani – who are standing under the name of the Albanian Coalition of the Valley of Presevo might win between one and three seats in the next Parliament. The Albanian Party (DPA-PDSh) led by Ragmi Mustafa decided to boycott the election. The Albanian parties are fighting for the official recognition of the Albanian language in education, the conservation of Albanian identity, the integration of the Albanian speaking population in Serb society and greater decentralisation.

One month before the elections the polls diverge greatly from one institute to another. According to a survey undertaken by Medium Gallup, the Radical Party is due to win 30% of the vote, the Democrat Party 19% and the Democratic Party of Serbia 15%. These three parties are due to be followed by G17 Plus with 10% and the Liberal-Democrat Party (LDP) led by Cedomir Jovanovic with 5%.

According to another poll the Democrat Party is due to win 21.8% of the vote, the Radical Party 17.2% and the Democratic Party of Serbia-New Serbia 12.8%. However the electorate of the Radical Party seems the most motivated: 30% of them say they are sure of going to vote on 21st January next versus 28% for the Democratic Party and 16% for the Democratic Party of Serbia. According to the same survey the Socialist Party is due to win 6% of the vote like the Liberal Democrat Party and G17 Plus. The Movement Strength for Serbia (PSS) led by Bogoljub Karic is credited with 4.5% and the Movement for the Renewal of Serbia 3,5%.

According to political analyst Jovo Bakic, "The Serb Radical Party has a strong electoral base and is not due to go below the 25% mark. The Democrat Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia can achieve a decent result but no one is expecting them to come out ahead. The question is the number of votes which will separate the two parties from the winner." He also thinks that G17 Plus and the Movement for Serbian Renewal led by Vuk Draskovic will not win more than 5% of the vote.

Reminder of the general election results in Serbia of 28th December 2003

source electoral commission of the Republic of Serbia

participation rate: 58.7%
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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