Presidential election in Serbia 29th September 2002


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


29 September 2002

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Deloy Corinne

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).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

Two years after having chased Slobodan Milosevic from power the Serbs are now being called to the ballot box to elect the new President of their Republic. The presidential battle on 29th September will be between, amongst others, Vojislav Kostunica, the present President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Miroljub Labus, deputy Prime Minister of the federal government and member of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia and who is, above all, close to Zoran Djindjic, Prime Minister of Serbia and main political rival of Vojislav Kostunica. In the past the two men were united in the fight against Slobodan Milosevic but the latent war has now transformed into open conflict. The Presidential election will be about appointing Serbia's new hand of power.

The Political System

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia comprises two Balkan countries (Serbia and Montenegro). Each has its own Constitution as well as its own political institutions.

Since 1998, Serbia's President has been Milan Milutinovic and since 25th January 2001 the Prime Minister has been Zoran Djindjic (the first non-communist Serbian Prime Minister since the introduction of political pluralism eleven years previous to that). Serbia's Assembly a single Parliamentary house comprises 250 MP's who are elected for four years. The last general elections were held on 23rd December 2000 and were won by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, a coalition of 18 political parties.

The main Serbian political movements are as follows:

- The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), coalition 18 parties, which Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) amongst others, belongs to,

- The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) whose President is Slobodan Milosevic,

- The Radical Serb Party (SRS), led by the extremely nationalist Vojislav Seselj,

- The Serb Unity Party (SSJ) led by Borislav Pelevic.

The government led by Zoran Djindjic is entirely made up of members of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia.

The present President, Milan Milutinovic, is the last "strongarm" from Slobodan Milosevic's time still to be in power in Belgrade. He is accused of war crimes in Kosovo by the International Criminal Court for ex-Yugoslavia in The Hague. He was elected in 1997 and his mandate officially comes to an end on 31st December this year. He cannot be removed from his post unless he resigns or is rejected by Parliament.

The Montenegrin President, Milo Djukanovic was elected in 1998. His Prime Minister, Filip Vujanovic, a member of the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, was appointed in July 2001.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia also has its own Constitution and its own political institutions. Its President is Vojislav Kostunica who was elected by universal suffrage on 5th October 2000 for five years and his Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic (the Constitution stipulates that the Prime Minister must be Montenegrin if the head of State is a Serb). The Parliament of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia comprises two chambers, the Citizens' Chamber and the Chamber of Republics for which the elections were held on 24th September 2000.

Since 14th March 2002, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should have been replaced by the State of Serbia and Montenegro. After lengthy negotiations, Vojislav Kostunica, Federal President, Milo Djukanovic, the Montenegrin President, Zoran Djindjic and Filip Vujanovic, the respective Prime Ministers of Serbia and Montenegro, and in the role of witness, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the EU, Javier Solana signed an agreement creating the new State. The text plans that, at the end of a three year trial period, the two associate States can either continue together and unite or choose to go their own separate ways. The agreement stipulates, in the case of division, Kosovo, that is presently under international protectorate, would remain within Serbia and enjoy "substantial autonomy". However five months after signing this text the State of Serbia and Montenegro still does not really exist, since the Serbian and Montenegrin leaders have not come to a final agreement. The EU has just called the latter to order on this point.

The Election Stakes

Many think that the electoral battle really started on 18th August 2001 when the ministers of the Democratic Party of Serbia left the Federal Government. Since then the opposition between Vojislav Kostunica and Zoran Djindjic has constituted the main political division in Serbia. They were united in the battle against Slobodan Milosevic, but the two men wasted no time in becoming rivals before the fight really began.

Vojislav Kostunica, who is 56 years old, is a lawyer by profession and is the most nationalist of the two candidates. His reticence and one could say, his hostility towards the International Criminal Court for ex-Yugoslavia in The Hague have only increased his popularity amongst the Serbs. On many occasions he qualified the ICC as a "political court" that employs "selective justice" and that the measure taken by the Serb government to deliver Slobodan Milosevic on 28th June 2001 to the ICC as "anti-constitutional". He is more concerned by the unity of the Serb people than by providing justice for the victims of the crimes committed by the very same Serbs, whom he qualifies as "victims of History". The Democratic Party of Serbia, the movement he leads, had humble origins but grew dramatically when militants from Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and Mira Markovic, his wife's party, the Yugoslav Left (JUL) joined to swell its ranks (the Democratic Party of Serbia joined forces with the parties of the former regime in several local councils).

As President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica has little power in comparison with his rival Zoran Djindjic. The latter who is 47 years old, a philospher and a part time businessman has in the role of Prime Minister of Serbia the real drivers of power at his fingertips. This man, who is both pragmatic and conscious of the opinion of the international community, aims to undertake major political and economic reforms quite rapidly so that his country will be able to become a candidate to integrate the EU as soon as possible.

The tension between the two men became apparent shortly after the political change in October 2000. In March 2001 President Kostunica criticised the arrest of Milomir Stakic – a Bosnian Serb accused of war crimes - by the Serb police under Zoran Djindjic's administration, and the former's transfer to the ICC. On 28th June 2001 the Serb government handed over Slobodan Milosevic to the ICC for ex-Yugoslavia in The Hague without President Kostunica's approval. On 17th August 2001 the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) accused the Serb government of colluding in organised crime and decided to withdraw all of its members. On 18th March 2002 the DSS demanded the resignation of Zoran Djindjic following the arrest of Momcilo Perisic, deputy Prime Minister for Serbia for "espionage and revelation of military secrets" by the army's information services. On 7th June the President's party created a shadow cabinet in Serbia aiming to "offer an alternative" to Zoran Djindjic's government. Four days later 21 MP's from the President's party were fired by the Serb parliament for absenteeism and were replaced by men loyal to Djindjic. The following day 45 MP's from the DSS left Parliament qualifying it as "illegitimate". Finally on 24th June the leaders of the ruling coalition, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia officially declared the exclusion of Vojislav Kostunica's Party from their ranks.

After 18 months of fighting the two men are about to go into battle once more and even though they are not exactly face to face this fight will be decisive for their personal future as much as for that of Serbia. If Zoran Djindjic's candidate is defeated it will mean personal failure for him and he will have to reckon with Vojislav Kostunica who will then be in an all powerful position (the President of Serbia can dissolve Parliament and enjoys exceptional power in situations where there is a state of emergency). However if the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia fails this will certainly be the end of his political career.

Apart from the two main candidates (Labus and Kostunica) other political figures are presenting themselves for the presidential election.

The extreme nationalist Vojislav Seselj, is a candidate suggested and supported by Slobodan Milosevic, who is still the President of the Socialist Party of Serbia but who has been rejected by the very same party. Vojislav Seselj was beaten by Milan Milutinovic during the last presidential elections in December 1997.

The SPS's official candidate will be Velimir Bata Zivojinovic, MP of the Serb Parliament for 12 years and one of the most famous actors in Yugoslav cinema.

Finally there is Vuk Draskovic, one of the main opposition leaders in Slobodan Milosevic's time, who has also joined the presidential battle.

Zoran Djindjic might have imagined that an anticipated presidential election (it should have been held in January 2003) would prevent Vojislav Kostunica from being a candidate, since he has not completed setting up the new State of Serbia and Montenegro, but he was obviously mistaken. On 25th August the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia presented himself officially as a candidate for the position of President of Serbia without even resigning from his present post. Although the present Constitution says that the head of the Federal State cannot take on any other function it does not prohibit him from presenting himself for the Serbian presidential election nor even from becoming the elected President of Serbia. Apart from the confrontation between these two men it is the future of Serbia, extenuated after years of war, that will really be in play on 29th September.

Summary of the results of the last general elections in Serbia on 23rd December 2000:

Participation : 64,16%

Source : Le Courrier des pays de l'Est, Europe centrale et orientale 2000-2001, Vers l'intégration européenne et régionale, n° 1 016, June - July 2001, Paris, La Documentation Française, 2001

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