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Serbia - General Elections

General Elections in Serbia, 11th May 2008

General Elections in Serbia, 11th May 2008

11/04/2008 - Analysis

On 11th May next 6.7 million Serbs are being called to vote for the third time in sixteen months. On 21st January 2007, the Serbs elected parliament and on 3rd February this year they appointed the President of the Republic, outgoing Head of State Boris Tadic (Democratic Party, DS). Fourteen days after the election on 17th February Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence thereby creating a political crisis in Serbia, a country that is already suffering economic and social disruption.
The former province, considered by the Serbs as the cradle of their history, finally gained the upper hand over the Serb government since on 8th March Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS) resigned; as a consequence early elections on 11th May, the same day as local and provincial elections have been organised. The Minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic has maintained that the local and national elections would also be organised in Kosovo. "The general elections have to be organised across the entire Serb territory which also means in Kosovo," stressed President Boris Tadic. According to Kosovar President Fatmir Sedju, the Serbs are using the elections to challenge Kosovo.

The Political Crisis

On 5th March last 133 MPs accepted that the motion asking the European Union to acknowledge "clearly and unambiguously the territorial integrity of Serbia" be included on the agenda; 32 MPs voted against and 37 did not take part in the vote. This motion put forward by the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) received the support of the DSS and the Socialist Party (SPS). The following day ministers from the Democratic Party (DS) and from the G17+ rejected the resolution which they qualify as damaging for the interests of Serbia (16 votes against 7), because in their eyes by making the acknowledgement of Serbia's territorial integrity a condition – co-operation between Belgrade and the European Union would automatically become null and void. The pro-European Serb parties stress that this text will not bring Kosovo back into the Serb fold; on the contrary it will endanger Belgrade's candidature for accession to the European Union, which is still the government's main goal. G17+ leader Mladjan Dinkic said that his party "no longer wanted to stay in a government that would take Serbia back into isolation." "All that counts for us is an economically strong Serbia and for it to be a member of the European Union," indicated the Minister for Finance and Regional Development.

On 8th March Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica handed in his resignation. "The Serb government is undergoing a serious crisis because there is no will to decide that Serbia can only become a member of the European Union if it remains whole, i.e. with Kosovo," he declared adding, "it is obvious that a government that no longer has any political unity cannot go on; therefore it is the end of this government and we have to render our mandate to the people."

"I respect the Prime Minister's position when he says he can no longer lead the government and I shall convene general elections," declared President Boris Tadic who indicated that these were "a democratic way of overcoming the political crisis." On the government's proposal the Head of State dissolved Parliament and decided on the organisation of early general elections.

The Serb 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. In 2006 a reform of the electoral law abolished the obligatory threshold of 5% of the votes for the parties representing the minorities (Rom, Hungarian, Croat, and Romanian, Bosnian etc.) to be represented in Parliament. This threshold still applies for all of the other parties. Finally every list has to include at least 30% women amongst its candidates.

At present 11 political parties have a seat in the National Assembly:
- The Democratic Party (DS), a democratic party led by the present President of the Republic, Boris Tadic with 64 MPs;
- The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), a party led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica with New Serbia (NS), led by Infrastructure Minister, Velimir Ilic, has 47 seats;
- The Serbian 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 interim president is Tomislav Nikolic has 81 MPs;
- G17+, a member of the government coalition led by Finance and Regional Development Minister, Mladjan Dinkic with 19 seats;
- The Socialist Party (SPS), the party of former President Slobodan Milosevic, who died on 11th March 2006 in The Hague. The party is led by Ivica Dacic has 16 MPs;
- The coalition rallying the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the Civic Alliance of Serbia, the Social Democratic Union and the Social Democratic League of Vojvodina led by Cedomir Jovanovic has 15 seats;
- the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians led by Jozef Kasa, 3 MPs;
- the Coalition list for Sanjak led by Sulejman Ugljanin, 2 seats;
- the Roma Union of Serbia Rajko Djuric, 1 MP;
- the Albanian Coalition of the Valley of Presevo, 1 seat;
- the Roma Party led by Sajn Srdjan, 1 MP.

The Electoral Campaign

For the second time in three months the Serbs will have to vote for or against Serbia growing closer to the European Union and to validate or invalidate their previous choices. These early elections will lead to a clarification of the political situation and put an end to the stalemate. However given the multitude of elections the Serbs may very well have grown weary and choose abstention or punish the government coalition and vote in support of the radical parties.

"The Prime Minister has chosen the most rational and undoubtedly the best solution. Finding out whether Serbia will continue on the road to European integration with or without Kosovo can only be settled by elections," maintains political analyst, Dusan Pavlovic. "Everything has been pushed to the sidelines. Nothing can be addressed because Kosovo has taken up all the space on the agenda. Kosovo has become a kind of gauge against which all other economic and social issues are measured. It will be like this until the next elections," he stressed, since "the further the date is from 17th February the greater the Democratic Party's chances will be since we shall gradually emerge from this period of intense emotion."

President Boris Tadic hopes to accelerate his country's integration into the European Union and is refusing to let Kosovo dominate the electoral campaign. "Of course Kosovo is an integral part of our country, but the problem is that the Serb government does not have a joint position on Serbia's European and economic perspectives," he stresses. "We cannot afford a return to the 1990's with the domination of primitive populism and false patriotism that simply led to ruin and misfortune, I shall put all my energy into fighting against these dangerous ideas," maintained the Head of State who says he is confident that "this idea can no longer rule in Serbia – the presidential election results prove this," adding, "these general elections are a chance for Serbia to confirm its democratic establishment and to change so that it can strengthen its territorial integration and its economic perspectives thanks to its integration into the European Union."

The Democratic Party and G17+ have decided to join forces in the election on 11th May; their coalition will bear the name "For a European Serbia/Democratic Party-G17+/Boris Tadic" and will include 166 candidates from the DS, 60 from G17+ and eight from the Democratic Party of Sanjak led by Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) or the League of Vojvodina Social-Democrats (LSV). The list that rallied 13,932 signatures will be led by Dragoljub Micunovic (DS).

Although the DSS will ally itself with New Serbia as in the elections on 21st January 2007, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Cedomir Jovanovic, and the Socialist Party (SPS), led by Ivica Dacic, will stand alone on May 11th. The SPS, which will be standing with the United Pensioners's Party (PUPS) and United Serbia witnessed a decline in its influence over the months that followed the death of Slobodan Milosevic. The party does however hope to win 10% of the vote. As for the LDP that has collated 12,000 signatures for this election, it is not believed to be serious enough and has been deemed irresponsible since it refused to condemn the unilateral declaration of independence on the part of the Kosovar authorities on 17th February. The LDP has accused the Serb government of fostering violence in Kosovo for electoral ends as the 11th May approaches. "If Kosovo is used like this from the very start of the campaign we wonder what a government is capable of on the very day of the elections," asks the LDP, adding "a vote for us is a vote in support of the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union because Serbia belongs in the European Union." The signature of this agreement was postponed in January since the Netherlands and Belgium believed that the co-operation work undertaken by the Serb authorities with the ICTY was inadequate. The latter is still waiting for the surrender of Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity together with Radovan Karadjic, accused of genocide and war crimes. Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic (DS) said on 29th March that the arrest of Ratko Mladic was imminent.

"All Serb parties support membership of the European Union, the question is how we should achieve it. The European States who acknowledged the false status of Kosovo want Serbia to do the same but does Serbia have to join the 27 without Kosovo? Kosovo is Serbia, and Serbia cannot enter the European Union without Kosovo," maintains Vojislav Kostunica adding "Serbia has to respect its sovereignty and its territorial integrity to win respect in Brussels. If the Serbs do not give a clear message in the elections saying that Kosovo is Serb and that Serbia cannot join the 27 without Kosovo, a new route for a negotiations with regard to accession to the European Union will be opened up."

Naturally European leaders are following the political events in Serbia very closely. Many say they are confident and hope for victory on the part of the pro-Western camp. "These general elections will be a good opportunity for the Serb people to choose its future direction. Now that the elections are being organised I hope that the pro-European forces will win. I have seen encouraging signs. To be frank, I do not think our Serb friends have any other possibility but the European Union. Where else would they go?" stresses Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel whose country is ensuring the presidency of the EU at present. "It is clear that the European Union is committed to the future of Serbia and today, Serbia has a crucial opportunity to move forwards. It can either turn to a European future or inflict international isolation on itself," indicates Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Enlargement. "I really do hope that the Serbs will continue to move forwards towards a deep and strong relationship with the European Union," declared High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), Javier Solana who recalled on 8th April that the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement was urgent and it would be better if this came before the elections on 11th May next. "Serbia is a country that tends to look towards the past and we have to help it to turn to the future. We have to make every effort to offer our hand to the Serb people, not just to talk but also to act, to show that it belongs to the European family," he declared.
"Javier Solana is intervening directly in the Serb elections," stressed Education Minister Zoran Locar (DSS). The Radical Party (SRS) recalled that the High Representative for the CFSP was the first official to congratulate "the false State" of Kosovo.

To date 18 of the 27 European Union Member States have officially acknowledged the independence of Kosovo. The Serb authorities have recalled the ambassadors who were in office in these countries back to Belgrade. On 10th March Serbia warned its Hungarian, Croatian and Bulgarian neighbours: "I am asking the States, especially those in the region not to take this step (acknowledge the sovereignty of Pristina)," asked Serb Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic concluding with "any country that acknowledges the illegal state of Kosovo is violating international law." Boris Tadic and Vojislav Kostunica are both against Kosovo's sovereignty, but the President, who is pro-European, is against the Prime Minister who wants to put an end of his country's negotiations with the European Union if Brussels does not openly condemn Kosovo's independence. The Head of Government recalls that Belgrade has to protect the 100,000 Serbs living in the southern province. He wants these Serbs to govern, under UN control, the police forces, the justice system and the administration of the borders of their territory. "We accept resolution 1.244 with regard to MINUK's police, legal and customs competences but after the unilateral declaration of independence only the Serbs, with the help of Belgrade, are able to take on these responsibilities," declared the Minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic. On 24th March Serbia said it was ready to discuss the status of Kosovo "under the auspices of the UN". "Peace and stability will not be found without the approval of the UN Security Council," stressed Serb Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.
Many observers of the political arena see in Vojislav Kostunica's resignation an attempt to take advantage of the mobilisation with regard to Kosovo and to gain a few points in the polls and even to ensure his own political survival since the DSS is particularly unpopular at present, just managing to stay above the obligatory representation threshold of 5% if it is to win seats in Parliament. "The more we wait the more it will suit the pro-European parties, such as the Democratic Party, G17+ and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Cedomir Jovanovic," stressed political analyst Slobodan Antonic before the announcement of the election date. "Some political parties are trying to take advantage of the Kosovo issue to gain in popularity," maintained President Boris Tadic.

Again the DSS will be the adjudicator in these elections after playing the same role in the presidential election. Although he has never succeeded in bringing down the pro-European camp Vojislav Kostunica seems to have finally drawn away from Boris Tadic and increasingly promotes his nationalist opinions. Although his alliance with the SRS seems to be possible the SRS may not accept Vojislav Kostunica as leader of their government if they win – and according to everyone, this would be a post that the Prime Minister would not be prepared to relinquish.

"All political parties agree on Kosovo, the only issue to resolve is whether Serbia should abandon its European projects because it has been insulted," declares the director of the Centre for Alternative Studies, Milan Nikolic who said in the daily Blic that he is optimistic about the general elections since the opinion polls forecast that 79% of the Serbs support their country's integration into Europe.
At the beginning of the year some young people launched a movement in Belgrade "There is no alternative to Europe." "The main idea is to draw closer to Europe and for Serbia to become a member of the Union. But our aim is also to respect universal and European values for the country to become a society of tolerance and dialogue where it is possible to talk freely," stresses one of its members, Srecko Sekelijc. The movement adopted a declaration of Serbian youth that was signed by 56 organisations and delivered to the Serb government. On 11th February it organised a demonstration to warn the Serb people of the pending threat: "Someone is working to take Serbia back to the time of isolation as in the 1990's. But Serbia's path lies in European integration." Three written requests were made to the Serb government: the freeing of the institutions, the signature of the provisional agreement put forward by the European Union and the respect of international commitments, including the extradition of war criminals.

The most recent poll published by the daily B92 credits the coalition "Democratic Party (DS)-G17+" with 39.9% of the vote ahead of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), 37.1%. The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)-New Serbia (NS) is due to win 10.4%, the Socialist Party (SPS) 5.4% and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), 3.1%, i.e. below the vital 5% threshold to sit in Parliament.

Reminder of the General Election Results on 21st January 2007 in Serbia.

Turn out: 60.62%
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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