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Serbia - Presidential and General Elections

The Serbs will be renewing all of their political representatives (president of the Republic, MPs and local representatives) on 6th May

The Serbs will be renewing all of their political representatives (president of the Republic, MPs and local representatives) on 6th May

10/04/2012 - Analysis - 1st round

On 13th March last the President of the Republic, Boris Tadic (Democratic Party, DS), set the 6th May as the date for the next general elections in which the Serbs will renew the 250 members of the National Assembly, the only chamber in Parliament. This election is the first not to take early since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic (October 2000). On 4th April the head of State decided to resign from office and to convene a presidential election (a few months ahead of the normal date), on the same day as the general elections. On 6th May next the Serbs will also be appointing their local representatives and voters in Vojvodina (a region in the north of the country) will be choosing their members of their regional Assembly.

Over the last few years the general elections in Serbia, have regularly brought the pro-European camp led by the President of the Republic Boris Tadic, into opposition against the pro-Russian nationalists led by Tomislav Nikolic (Serb Progressive Party, SNS). After years of war and isolation in the international arena and since they have been able to elect their representatives democratically, the Serbs have always chosen the path of reason, by electing parties to office which have promised them a European future.

In 2008 the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Serbia and the EU helped enormously towards the victory of the Democratic Party in the general elections. On March 1st Serbia achieved official EU candidate status on the part of Brussels. This might not now weigh as much as before in the electorate's choice. "The citizens of Serbia have carried a heavy burden in the shape of the reforms our country has undertaken to turn it into a democratic society in which human rights and minorities are respected and European values asserted," stressed President Boris Tadic after the Brussels announcement. "The EU is vital for Serbia because it keeps it on the path of reason," said Ognjen Pribicevic, Belgrade's former Ambassador to Germany. Bosko Jaksic, a journalist at the daily Politika, notes that for the first time ever the EU's decision has not been motivated by fear of seeing Tomislav Nikolic rise to power but rather more because of the deterioration in the situation in Kosovo. The former radical leader quit the Radical Party (SRS) after the last general elections on 11th May 2008, to create a new one, the Progressive Party (SNS), and now claims to be pro-European.
The outgoing government led by Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, (independent) comprises the Demcoratic Party, the Socialist Party (SPS) led by Ivica Dacic (founded in 1990 by Slobodan Milosevic), the United Pensioners Party (PUPS) led by Jovan Krkobabic, G17+ led by Mladjan Dinkic, the United Regions Party (URS), the Social Democratic Party (SDP) led by Rasim Ljajic and Democratic Action of Sandjak (SDA). The general elections on 6th May should, amongst other things, be a test of strength of the alliance between the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party.

Presidential Election: Boris Tadic vs Tomislav Nikolic, round 3.

"I have decided to shorten my mandate so that a presidential election can take place on 6th May and I shall be running. These elections (presidential and general) will provide citizens with an opportunity to choose the path they want to take. I am offering the path of European integration and the protection of our territory," declared outgoing Head of State Boris Tadic on 4th April last as he announced his resignation. The outgoing president's mandate was officially due to come to an end on 15th February 2013.
Boris Tadic is running for his third consecutive mandate as head of State. The 2006 Serb Constitution prohibits the Presidents from undertaking more than two mandates but this text was adopted during Boris Tadic's first mandate (2004-2008), when he was elected for the first time as Head of State of Serbia and Montenegro. On 5th June 2006 Serbia became independent after a referendum organised in Montenegro on 21st 2006, when 55.5% of the electorate voted in support of the end of the union between Podgorica and Belgrade. Boris Tadic was re-elected as President of Serbia on 3rd February 2008.

The presidential mandate is five years. Each candidate running for the supreme office has to collate at least 10,000 signatures if he is to stand. If none of the candidates wins the absolute majority on 6th May next, a second round is organised two weeks later on 20th May.

To date 8 people are running for the Presidency of the Republic:
- Boris Tadic (Democratic Party, DS), outgoing head of State;
- Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the Progressive Party (SNS);
- Cedomir Jovanovic, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP);
- Itsvan Pastor, candidate of the Union of Hungarians of Vojvodina (VMSZ);
- Alexandr Martinovic, the Radical Party's candidate (SRS);
- Vojislav Kostunica, former Prime Minister (2004-2008) and Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) candidate;
- Ivica Dacic, leader of the Socialist Party (SPS);
- Zoran Stankovic, present Healthcare Minister and former Defence Minister (2005-2007), candidate of the United Regions Party (URS).
Other people may come forward as candidates in the presidential election within the next few days.

Officially, the outgoing president has justified the organisation of the early election because he says it will save time and money. By holding all of the elections at the same time helps Serbia avoid long months of electoral campaigning. But it also enables Boris Tadic to take advantage of the fact that Belgrade achieved official EU candidate status on March 1st last in Brussels; it also enables the Democratic Party to benefit from the charisma of its leader, whose portrait is now on the party's electoral posters. Another important point: the government that is appointed after the general elections on 6th May will have to take some difficult and unpopular decisions very quickly, which might have damaged the re-election of the outgoing Head of State if the Presidential election had taken place as planned.
Boris Tadic will be facing Tomislav Nikolic who he has beaten twice already: 53.97% of the vote on 27th June 2004 (46.03% for the nationalist leader) and on 3rd February 2008, 50.31% of the vote against 47.97% to his rival.

Tomislav Nikolic who is standing against Boris Tadic's for the 3rd time running has changed his stance over the last few years. After the general elections on 11th May 2008, the Serb Radical Party led by Vojislav Seselj divided and in the autumn Tomislav Nikolic and Aleksandr Vucic left the party to create the Progressive Party, which unlike the Radical Party says it supports Serbia's integration of the EU. Tomislav Nikolic is therefore standing as a pro-European nationalist candidate. He is careful however, since he is aware that Belgrade's membership is not due to take place before 2020, whilst the Serbs are expecting real responses to their present economic difficulties.
Hence Tomislav Nikolic regularly accuses Boris Tadic of having set the goal of Serbia's accession to the EU over that of improving living standards and the fight to counter corruption. "If we were in power we would have a better living standard and we have many friends across the world who might help us," he declared, referring to Russia and China with whom he would like Serbia to have closer links.

Socialist, Ivica Dacic, is unhappy about the Presidential election taking place on the same day as the general election. Indeed he fears that the media will only be interested in two personalities, i.e. Boris Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic and their parties, to the detriment of other political movements. This is why Mr Dacic decided to run in the presidential election. Liberal Democrat Cedomir Jovanovic has also protested against the early presidential election and stressed the fact that a duel between Boris Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic would dominate the heart of the electoral campaign, which would in turn be detrimental to the latter and overshadow all of the other candidates and parties.
"Boris Tadic and Tomislav Nikolic want to cut Serbia in two, but Serbia is bigger than that," declared the socialist leader. Djodje Jovanovic, a political analyst from the Centre for Political Innovation in Belgrade recalls that the fact of putting the same candidate forward for the post of Prime Minister and head of State is customary in Serbia.

The General Elections: the progressive opposition in the lead but with what kind of majority?

In the general elections Boris Tadic's Democratic Party has chosen to join forces with the Social Democratic Party and the Social Democratic League of Vojvodina, in a coalition called "The choice of a better life-Boris Tadic". It maintains that it will not govern with any of the following parties: the Renewal Party (SPO) led by Vuk Draskovic, the United Regions Party, the Progressive Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia led by former Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, the Radical Party and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
As four years ago the Democratic Party's programme is defending a European Serbia. "A European Serbia is a modern country with the rule of law, it is an efficient country with infrastructures, quality communication, universities – a country where people want to stay and from which they are not trying to flee," declared Boris Tadic. He admitted that a great deal still had to be done to achieve this; he said he wanted the next government to be appointed as quickly as possible after the election, saying that a great number of major reforms had to be set in place. "The next government will have to take some difficult, complicated decisions to guarantee a better future for our citizens," he said. "During the general elections we have to be wary of those who might destroy everything that has been done since 2000," he warned, declaring that some parties, that were previously in favour of a Grand Serbia and that were now pro-European had neither vision nor programme and were threatening to take the country into a dead end.

The achievement of official EU candidate status for Serbia was mainly done by Boris Tadic. "The path towards Europe will guarantee stability, better living standards, new investments and the country's modernisation. We must not stop, whatever the problems encountered by the European Union," he stressed. For 2012 the democratic leader set himself several goals: the reduction of unemployment, increased investments and improved living standards. "We have to be prepared for a new wave in the economic crisis," he indicated.

The Serb Progressive Party led by Tomislav Nikolic is offering a 120 page programme in which it promises a decrease in taxes and a campaign against monopolies and tycoons. It has announced a reduction in corruption that will enable savings of 62 billion dinars, i.e. around 2% of the country's GDP. It has joined forces in a coalition called the SNS-NS-PSS-PS Tomislav Nikolic, which comprises the Progressive Party, New Serbia (NS) led by Velimir Ilic, the Strength of Serbia Movement (PSS) led by Bogoljub Karic and the Socialist Movement (PS). Tomislav Nikolic has ruled out working with Boris Tadic's Democratic Party.

On 11th March last the Liberal Democratic Party led by Cedomir Jovanovic, who is fighting for development in the policy undertaken in Kosovo in support of an acceptance of the declaration of the country's independence, has joined forces in these general elections with the Serb Renewal Movement and the Social Democratic Union.

The Question of Kosovo

On 24th February last Serbia and Kosovo signed a regional cooperation agreement which allows Pristina to take part in conferences that are held concerning the Balkans without Belgrade having officially acknowledged Kosovo's independence. This agreement that opens up dialogue between the two countries enabled Serbia to achieve official EU candidate status from Brussels.
On 14th and 15th February last a large majority of the Serbs of Kosovo living south of the river Ibar (99.74%) voted by referendum and rejected the institutions of the "supposed Republic of Kosovo". Three quarters of the 35,000 voters (75%) took part. 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, 40,000 of them live in the border region between this country and Serbia. The President of the Republic Boris Tadic, denounced the organisation of the popular vote that "was damaging to the interests of the Serb State."

The pro-European parties are defending both the idea of a European Serbia and that of a Serbian Kosovo. "All of those who suggest giving up European integration to save Kosovo should be aware that Serbia would lose all hopes of maintaining its national interests in Kosovo and in Metohija. Belgrade must draw up a solution that respects the legitimate interests of the Albanians and the institutions of Pristina but which at the same time do not infringe Serb interests. I am sure that a solution like this is possible," repeats Boris Tadic.

The Progressive Party is against any acknowledgement of Pristina's independence or solutions that "would humiliate Serbia" because "Kosovo is just as much Serb as it is Albanian" he stresses. Tomislav Nikolic does not want his country to join the EU to the detriment of Kosovo and is particularly sceptical about real EU membership for Serbia. "The achievement of the status means nothing. Look at Turkey, which has officially been a candidate since 1987," declared the progressive leader. "I do not know what kind of promises the government had to make to achieve official candidate status, so I cannot really rejoice about it," he maintained.

The Kosovar authorities have refused the organisation of local elections in the Serb towns in Kosovo on 6th May and have called on the EU to intervene to prevent their occurrence. The Ambassador of the USA in Kosovo, Christopher Dell, said that this election would infringe UN resolution 1,244. Farid Zarif, head of the UN mission in Kosovo (MINUK) said that the local election could not be organised because of the tension that existed between the two countries. Oliver Ivanovic, Secretary of State for Kosovo and Metohija within the government indicated that the Serb institutions would continue to exist beyond 6th May because the government would appoint local representatives after the elections.

The Serb Political System

The Serb political landscape has changed a great deal over the last few years. The country has 82 parties (45 of which represent national minorities) in comparison with over 600 before the modification of the electoral law in 2009. Since last year a new change to the law enables representatives to fulfil their mandates and therefore to change party if they want to. Many political analysts fear that this measure will downgrade the general election and that the richest parties will try to "buy" representatives. Moreover Serbia now has a single national electoral list which replaces the previous local list system. On 6th May next, in the presidential and general elections, the Serbs will be able to vote in any of the country's polling stations and not only in their place of domicile as before.

The National Assembly, the only chamber in parliament comprises 250 members elected for four years by proportional representation within a single constituency. Each candidate list has to find at least 10,000 citizens' signatures if they want to stand in the elections (3,000 for the parties representing national minorities: Roma, Hungarians, Croatians, Romanians, Bosnians, etc.). Every political party has to win at least 5% of the vote cast to be represented in the National Assembly except for the parties representing the national minorities. Finally every list must comprise at least 30% of women amongst its candidates.

After the last general elections on 11th May 2008 the following political parties were represented in the National Assembly:
– the five parties within the coalition "For a European Serbia": the Democratic Party led by Boris Tadic (DS), G17+ led by Mladjan Dinkic, the Serb Renewal Movement (SPO), the Social Democratic League of Vojvodina (LSV) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), have 102 seats together;
– the Serb Radical Party (SRS), an extreme nationalist party is led by Dragan Todorovic, who is replacing Vojislav Seselj, former Prime Minister under Slobodan Milosevic, who has been in prison in The Hague since he was surrendered in February 2003 and accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The party divided in October 2008 and the two main leaders, Tomislav Nikolic and Aleksandar Vucic left it to found the Serb Progressive Party (SNS). The Radical Party has 56 seats and the Progressive Party, 21;
– the Democratic Alliance Party of Serbia (DSS) led by former Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and New Serbia (NS), led by Velimir Ilici has 30 MPs;
– the coalition comprising the Socialist Party (SPS), founded on 27th July 1990 founded by Slobodan Milosevic and led by Ivica Dacic, the United Pensioners' Party (PUPS) led by Jovan Krbobabic and United Serbia (US) led by Dragan Markovic, has 20 seats;
– the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), founded in 2005 after a split in the Democratic Party, led by Cedomir Jovanovic, with 13 seats;
– the Hungarian Coalition has 4 seats;
– the Bosnian List for a European Sandjak, led by Esad Dzudzevic has 2 seats;
– the Albanian Coalition of the Presevo Valley has one MP.

The polls forecast victory for Boris Tadic, in the first round of the presidential election with 40.9% of the vote ahead of Tomislav Nikolic, who is due to win 33.4% of the vote. Moreover nearly half of the Serbs (47%) say they are satisfied with their head of State.

Source : Electoral Commission of Serbia

Source : Electoral Commission of Serbia
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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