14/01/2008 - D-7 - 1st round
On 20th January one year after the general elections on 21st January 2007, over 6.5 million Serbs are being called to appoint their future President of the Republic. This election comes just as Kosovo, a Serb province under international administration since 1999, is considering declaring its independence. Outgoing head of State, Boris Tadic (Democratic Party DS) is standing for re-election and promises a European Serbia and also that he will fight as much for Kosovo as for accession to the European Union; his main rival however, Tomislav Nikolic (Radical Party SRS) is mainly targeting the excluded and all of those who have suffered from the transition in order to convince them that he will provide them with a "better life
Nine people are offically running:
- Boris Tadic (DS), outgoing head of State also supported by 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, former Prime Minister under Slobodan Milosevic and 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 the former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY);
- Cedomir Jovanovic, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP);
- Velimir Ilic, Infrastructure Minister and leader of New Serbia (NS) supported by the Democratic Party (DSS) of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica;
- Jugoslav Dobricanin of the Reform Party (RS);
- Marijan Ristevic of the People's Peasant Party (NSS);
- Itsvan Pastor, candidate of the Hungarian minority supported for the first time 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) and Vice-President of Parliament;
- Bogoljub Karic, leader of the Power of Serbia Movement (PSS).
Outgoing President, Boris Tadic is running favourite in the polls and launched his electoral campaign on 22nd December 2007 with the motto "With the people
". The Democratic Party candidate wants his campaign to be based on direct contact with the citizens and meetings rather than on the media. Boris Tadic gathered 18,903 voters' signatures to stand (every candidate has to collate at least 10,000 signatures in order to stand in the Serb elections; each voter can only give his signature to one candidate only). The outgoing President is also supported by the Sandzak Democratic Party led by Labour Minister Rasim Ljajic and the Sandzak Party led by Fevzija Muric. The latter maintained: "I am calling all inhabitants of the Sandzak and all Bosnians to vote for Boris Tadic. Like this they will give their votes to a President of the Republic who will sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union.
" The European text is due to be signed on 28th January next. Boris Tadic is relying on the results of the past three years as head of State and is calling for "a strong, stable, European Serbia.
" The head of State hopes to see his country rise to the rank of official candidate for accession before the end of 2008. "Serbia has said NO to a policy of war and murder and has chosen the path of peace. The country needs victories: in the discussions on the status of Kosovo, in European integration, and in its fight against poverty and corruption,
" repeats Boris Tadic.
His main rival, Tomislav Nikolic, started his electoral campaign on 24th December in his home town of Kragujevac with the motto "Wholeheartedly with Serbia
". The Radical Party leader would like to be the candidate of change and stands as the only one able to bring Serbia out of the chaos into which Boris Tadic has led it. The future of Kosovo dominates most of his speeches. "The European Union has humiliated Serbia to a point that it now wants to remove Kosovo from its power. This is why Boris Tadic has organised a presidential election, so that Brussels can acknowledge Kosovo's independence,
" he declared in the daily newspaper Blic. He has requested a parliamentary session on Kosovo during which each candidate will come and say what he intends to do for the province, after which the Serbs will know how they stand and be able to decide how they will vote. The Radical Party leader does say that however the conflict ends Serbia will not use force. "We shall not go to war. We cannot do this and we shall not do it,
" he indicated.
The future of Kosovo is at the heart of the presidential electoral campaign simply because no Serb politician can allow himself to "let the province go
". On 26th December the Parliament voted by 220 votes in favour, 14 against and 3 abstentions, of a resolution which stipulates that Serbia might end relations with the European Union if Kosovo declared its independence. The text also rejects integration into NATO and proclaims the country's military neutrality "until another referendum is held on this issue.
" "We shall do everything we can for Kosovo to remain in Serbia and for Serbia to remain on the road to Europe,
" repeats outgoing President Boris Tadic. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (DSS) qualified a possible future Kosovar State "a ghost state that is vowed to disappear.
" He accuses the USA of supporting Kosovo's independence purely for their own military interests. Everyone agrees though that the province will probably declare its independence quite quickly after the Serb presidential election the second round of which is planned for 3rd February. The European Union and the USA purposely asked the Kosovar authorities to delay their announcement so as not to endanger the re-election of Boris Tadic. On 9th January last Hashim Thaci (Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK) was re-elected by the province's Parliament as president of the autonomous institutions of the province of Serbia (government of Kosovo). He will govern in coalition with the Democratic League of Kosovo, (LDK) a party led by President Fatmir Sejdiu. "Kosovo will do nothing without the go-ahead from Washington and Brussels: no unilateral action,
" indicated Hashim Thaci.
The party led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica which was undecided for a long time about the strategy it wanted to adopt in this presidential election finally announced on 3rd January its support for Velimir Ilic. It is the most natural choice since "he is our closest coalition partner
" indicated the party's press release. The DSS effectively joined forces with New Serbia in the last general elections on 21st January 2007 in an alliance that the party cannot easily neglect with the local elections, which have just been set, on the horizon on 11th May next. Velimir Ilic also has the support of the List for the Sandzak Coalition (LZS) led by the Mayor of Novi Pazar, Suleiman Ugljanin.
The only candidate to have voted against Parliament's resolution on Kosovo, Cedomir Jovanovic is campaigning under the banner of "Life is law
". The Liberal Democratic leader who is promoting socio-economic issues attracts a European, democratic electorate who is disappointed by the alliances between Boris Tadic and the nationalists of the DSS.
"For a Serbia where everyone is happy
", is the motto of Itsvan Pastor who gathered 13,018 signatures to stand in the presidential election. The candidate of the Hungarian minority is leading a campaign for the autonomy of the Hungarians of Vojvodina and the territorial autonomy of 8 communities in the north of the region where Hungarians are in the majority. He hopes to win the support of other national minorities as well as the citizens of Vojvodina. "It is strange that an ethnic community presents its own candidate in the presidential election,
" stresses outgoing head of State, Boris Tadic when speaking of Itsvan Pastor.
Finally on 11th January the Electoral Commission announced that it had decided not to allow British or American observers to travel to Serbia to monitor the presidential election "because these countries want to destroy us and steal Kosovo from us,
" maintained Radical Party representative at the Commission, Slavoljub Milenkovic.
"The electoral campaign is mainly focussed on those who have not decided and those who do not wonder who they will vote for but whether they will turn out,
" says Djordje Vukovic, an analyst at the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CeSID). None of the candidates seems to be in a position to be able to win the election in the first round. In this case a second round will be organised on 3rd February.
According to the most recent polls Boris Tadic is due to win with 33% of the vote. The outgoing President is said to be ahead of the Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic, who is due to win 27%. Velimir Ilic and Milutin Mrkonjic are due to win 4% of the vote each and Cedomir Jovanovic, 3%. The other four candidates are only due to win a small number of votes.