Presidential election Serbia 29th September 2002 : Kostunica- Labus duel in the second round


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

The two main candidates emerged neck and neck after the first round of the presidential election that was held on 29th September in Serbia. They will face each other in the second round on 13th October. The President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, won 30.89% of the votes cast, pushing slightly ahead of Miroljub Labus, Deputy Prime Minister of the Federal Government of Serbia who won 27.36% of the vote. Vojislav Seselj the ultra nationalist candidate who has the support of Slobodan Milosevic came third with 23.24%. No other candidate managed to achieve a score beyond 5%. The 250 observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) declared that the first round of the presidential election progressed quite normally.

The first thing that is revealed by this election: a high abstention rate (44.5%). It goes without saying that the presidential election has hardly motivated the Serbs. This figure is especially high if Serb electoral law is taken in account and that provides for the election's annulment if the abstention rate is equal to or higher than 50%. The participation rate will therefore be one of the major stakes in the second round.

The second factor that comes to light: the weight of the nationalist vote. The ultra nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj created a surprise achieving a significant score of 23.4% whilst the surveys credited him with between 10 to 15% of the intention to vote. He won most of his votes in the South of Serbia where the Albanian speaking population (around 70% of the citizens in the regions of Bujanovac and Presevo) boycotted the election. He took second place in the province of Voïvodine. The Albanian speaking population of Kosovo, as custom has it when Belgrade organises an election, abstained from the vote. Two of the main Albanian parties had openly called for a boycott of the election. However 55% of the Serb voters in the province chose Vojislav Seselj. It is a fact that a quarter of the population is still attached to nationalist theories. "It is worrying to see that where the minorities are living the electorate is so radical," stressed Goran Svilanovic, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Serbia.

The ultra nationalist leader owes part of his success to the support provided by Slobodan Milosevic. The former dictator made an appeal from prison at the International Criminal Court for Ex-Yugoslavia in the Hague to vote for him rather than for Velimir Bata Zivojinovic, his party's official candidate (The Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS). The keys to the second round are now in the hands of the Vojislav Seselj's electorate. According to a poll by SMMRI, 80% are ready to vote for Vojislav Kostunica.

Nationalist themes were omnipresent throughout the electoral campaign. Vojislav Kostunica readily drove home his opposition to the International Criminal Court as well as the "injunctions" made by the international community - he went as far as saying that the Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina would only be "temporarily" separated from their brothers in Serbia. This declaration enraged Sarajevo and the international community. The President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who claims to be a moderate nationalist, declared, "I am the alternative to Seselj as well as Djindjic and Labus. To my mind they are also extremists even though the West appreciates them better."

On 13th October the second round of the presidential election will entail the confrontation between Vojislav Kostunica and Miroljub Labus. The two men who were united in the fight against Slobodan Milosevic and have both taken part in government but they now disagree on the rhythm of change to be employed in the country. The Deputy Prime Minister of the Federal Government of Serbia is recommending an acceleration in the reforms undertaken two years ago so that Serbia can join the European Union in around 2010. «The more time we waste the higher the cost will be for Serbia. Either the country continues with determined political and economic reforms to put the past to rest or we have to go back to the drawing board," confirms Miroljub Labus. Vojislav Kostunica however is in favour of slowing down the reforms which he thinks are creating greater social instability within the country. "If I become President I would force Djindic to dissolve Parliament and organise early general elections," he promised (the President of Serbia does not have the power to dissolve Parliament himself). If he wins the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will in fact have to resign from his own post.

One thing seems clear: the election of the new President will finally put an end to Milan Milutinovic's reign. He is one of the last of Slobodan Milosevic's strong arms to still be in power. He is accused of crimes during the war in Kosovo by the International Criminial Court for ex-Yugoslavia in The Hague and will shortly be the subject of an international legal procedure in view of his transfer to the ICC. As far as the second round of the election is concerned victory might go to Vojislav Kostunica over Miroljub Labus thanks to the votes on the part of Milosevic's advocates. That is however if a majority of the Serbs do not decide to turn their backs on the ballot boxes.

Results of the first round of the presidential election on 29th September:

Participation : 55.5%

Source Agence France Presse

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