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Serbia - Presidential Election

Presidential election 20th January - 3rd February 2008

Presidential election 20th January - 3rd February 2008

20/01/2008 - Analysis - 1st round

On 12th December last Oliver Dulic, president of the National Assembly - the only House in Parliament - announced that the Serbs would be called to vote to elect the President of the Republic on 20th January next. The election, which was initially planned for 2009, became obligatory since a new Constitution was unanimously approved in September 2006 and adopted by 53.04% of the electorate on 28th and 29th October that year.
The new fundamental law makes it obligatory to hold a presidential election after the six last laws necessary for its organisation have entered into force (the law governing the President of the Republic, the law governing the presidential election, the laws governing defence, the army, external affairs and finally the law governing the security services). All of these have now been approved with two coming into force on 4th December, the other four on 19th December.
If none of the candidates wins the absolute majority in the first round on 20th January a second round will be organised on 3rd February. This presidential election will be first of its kind since the independence of Montenegro on 21st May 2006.

Candidates running in the presidential election

In Serbia the President of the Republic is elected for a five year term in office. Each candidate must collate at least 10,000 signatures to be able to run with each voter being able to give his/her signature to one candidate only. Candidates have until 30th December to register.

To date 6 people are running for President:

- Boris Tadic (Democratic Party, DS), outgoing Head of State. He has the support of the DS, the Sandzak Democratic Party led by Labour Minister, Rasim Ljajic and the Democratic Alliance of the Croats of Vojvodina led by Petar Kuntic;
- Tomislav Nikolic, interim leader of the Radical Party (SRS) whose leader Vojislav Seselj is on trial for war crimes against the non-Serb populations of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and of Vojvodina by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY);
- Cedomir Jovanovic, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP);
- Itsvan Pastor, candidate of the Hungarian minority supported by the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, the Democratic Fellowship of Vojvodina Hungarians, the Democratic Party of Vojvodina Hungarians and the Hungarian Civic Alliance;
- Milutin Mrkonjic, chairman of the Socialist Party (SPS);
- Bogoljub Karic, leader of the Power of Serbia Movement (PSS).

Infrastructure Minister, Velimir Ilic, leader of New Serbia (NS) said he would stand before saying that his party would only take a decision whether to put a candidate forward or not after 19th December when the UN Security Council discusses the status of Kosovo and Metohija. Dragan Markovic, president of United Serbia (US) will also decide after this date.

The future of the government coalition

The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) led by Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, said it was against the presidential election on the date chosen by Parliament. It would like the presidential election date, which it wanted to happen in the spring, to be chosen after 19th December and is accusing the Democratic Party (DS) of having infringed the government agreement which intends that every decision is taken by consensus. "All of the necessary conditions, firstly the necessary laws have been approved; no decision has been taken that might endanger the country's territorial integrity. We have to get used to the idea that the organisation of election is not a result of a political agreement but out of respect of the law," answered Deputy Prime Minister responsible for integration in response to criticism. "Every new election is an opportunity to enhance the democratic values and the stability of the State. It is very important at a time when Serbia is facing the challenge of preserving its territorial integrity," declared the chairman of Parliament, Oliver Dulic.

"The presidential election date was the most important thing, the Democratic Party of Serbia is more interested in the fight to protect Kosovo," maintained Dragan Sormaz, MP (DSS). Vojislav Kostunica has still not decided what his party's stance will be in this election. Tempted by the boycott of the election he might choose to stand against Boris Tadic in support of Tomislav Nikolic. However he is associated with the leader of New Serbia, via an alliance that he can not very easily ignore with the local elections on the horizon in a few months time. If he wants to maintain his agreement with Velimir Ilic he will therefore have to support him during the first round of the presidential election whilst the New Serbia candidate will probably support outgoing president Boris Tadic in the second round, if it takes place. Vojislav Kostunica's position is far from simple. Many analysts believe that he should boycott the presidential election.

The Radical Party (SRS) is against the election on 20th January believing that this decision infringes the constitutional norms but it has chosen to participate however since "this is a decisive battle for Serbia, for its survival and its future." It is calling for the electorate to vote for its leader "the only candidate able to beat the government candidate to ensure a better future for Serbia and its citizens."

"The Democratic Party of Serbia is joking in part when it says to the Democratic Party: we can join forces with the radicals if you give up Kosovo," stresses Milan Nikolic, director of the Centre for Alternative Studies, adding that if Vojislav Kostunica supports Tomislav Nikolic "he would be responsible for three or four lost years on the part of Serbia – years in which no progress will take place and during which time Serbia will draw away from the European Union." "The government coalition is facing a challenge that might easily lead to a serious government crisis," maintains political expert Slobodan Antonic. However sociologist Iovo Bakic from the College of Philosophy of Belgrade doubts that the Democratic Party of Serbia will finally decide to support the Radical Party during the presidential election. "I do not believe that there will be a real crisis within the government coalition because no one has any interest in the government's collapse," he maintains.
The government led by Vojislav Kostunica, rallies the Democratic Party (DS), the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), and G17+ led by the Finance and Regional Development Minister, Mladjan Dinkic.

The future of Kosovo

Kosovo, which has been administered by the UN since the end of the NATO bombings of Serbia in 1999 is expecting to achieve a final status. Over 18 months ago the UN started talks to find a solution for the future of the province that might be acceptable to both Serbs and Kosovars. These negotiations ended in failure on 10th December. Serbia is offering Kosovo greater autonomy and refuses at all costs any kind of independence plan which it considers "an integral part of its territory" (it is also mentioned in the Constitution) and the spiritual and historical birthplace of the Serb nation. However the Kosovars can foresee no other future but an independent one. Martti Ahtisaari, the UN special envoy's plan for Kosovo planned for "controlled independence" and a take over by the European Union from the United Nations Mission in Kosovo of the interim administration there.

The President of the Republic, Boris Tadic, said on 14th December that he would never accept Kosovo's independence but that he would however avoid Serbia becoming isolated again. "I shall never accept Kosovo's independence not only because of the constitutional duty I have to undertake – the Constitution stipulates that the President must start his oath by "I swear that I shall dedicate all of my strength to the protection of the sovereignty of the territory of the Republic of Serbia including Kosovo which is part of it" – but because Kosovo simply belongs to Serbia. I truly believe this. Independence goes against Serbia's interests and against those of the Albanians of Kosovo and finally it is dangerous for the stability of the region," he stressed. He did however repeat that Serbia would not use force to keep the province.

Kosovo is due to declare unilateral independence in 2008 with the agreement of the Western powers. The USA and the EU have asked the province's authorities to wait until the presidential election before proclaiming their independence so that Boris Tadic's chances are not endangered. The Kosovars have accepted this anxious to win a maximum amount of diplomatic and financial support after independence is declared.

"It is difficult to explain to the Serbs why and how we want to join the European Union whilst some Member States support Kosovo's independence and are ready to acknowledge it. But I should remind you that some European countries are against it," declared Boris Tadic on 14th December saying however, "Either way we shall not take decisions contrary to the interest of the citizens. The road to Europe is a better solution than the other option open to us and which would lead to the country's isolation." Within the European Union only Cyprus is against Kosovo's independence. On 28th February next Serbia is due to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU. This agreement depends however on the effort made by the Serb authorities to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) which is still waiting for Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadjic to be surrendered.

"It is very important for us to solve the Kosovo problem by peaceful means and that all solutions implemented for Kosovo can be used by all the minorities in Serbia," said the Hungarian minority candidate in the presidential election, Itsvan Pastor. The Hungarians represent 3% of the Serb population.

The future status of Kosovo will not be decided until after the presidential election. However the issue of the province's future totally dominated the electoral stage; this might have benefited Radical Party candidate Tomislav Nikolic, who has made the defence of Serb interests the focus of his programme and who also has a strong electoral base. All political analysts are expecting a second round in this election with outgoing President Boris Tadic against Tomislav Nikolic. The SRS won the general elections organised on January 22nd last; they won 28.59% of the vote versus 22.71% for the DS and 16.55% for the DSS. Opinion polls lean rather more to the outgoing President if there is a second round against the SRS leader. The latest poll by Factor+ mid-December grants 36.5% of the vote to Boris Tadic and 31.8% to Tomislav Nikolic. The gap between the two men is a tight one.

The electoral campaign which started on 13th December will end on 17th January at midnight.

Results of the 2nd round of the presidential election on 27th June 2004

Turn out: 48.7%
Source: Agence France Presse
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
Other stages
2nd roundD-7